Petaluma exhibit to show two views of Brazil

In an exhibit at the Petaluma SRJC, artists Bob and Lynda Nugent combined talents to show two different points of view of the Amazon and beyond.|

Sonoma County artist Bob Nugent, 68, has roamed all over Brazil for the past 30 years, training his curious eye on much of the indigenous flora and fauna that flourishes in the sprawling Amazonia region.

For a museum in Sao Paulo, he once did a painting of the Amazon River, the largest river by discharge of water in the world. It took him three years, stretched 328 feet and wove through three separate art galleries.

“It’s the river from Iquitos (Peru) to Belem (Brazil),” he said of the painting. ”At its mouth, it’s 200 miles wide and displaces 7.3 million cubic feet per second - enough to fill one of the Great Lakes in three hours.”

In an exhibit that opened Aug. 17 at the Santa Rosa Junior College in Petaluma, Nugent and his artist wife, Lynda, poured their combined creativity into a collaborative exhibit of works inspired by the Amazon, natural disasters and photographs of nature they took on a recent trip to the South Pacific.

The art in “Selected Collaborative Works by Bob and Lynda Nugent” could not be more different, especially when viewed side by side.

“People are going to come in and see very different ends of the spectrum,” Bob said. “I’m a colorist, and she does black-and-white.”

The exhibit of 21 paintings and drawings includes six works the couple did through an unusual collaboration.

There are four “Side by Side” works inspired by vacation photographs, which the couple worked on separately; and two works that they executed together, trading them back and forth.

“Our vacation photos look very weird,” said Lynda, 64, who has eight drawings in the exhibit depicting natural disasters, such as tornadoes.

“We’re both kind of morbid.”

SSU teacher

Bob, who taught at Sonoma State University for 25 years and serves as curator for the Imagery Estate Winery Artist Program, loves color and texture and works on a wide variety of surfaces, including canvas, wood and thin wood veneer. His paintings blend concrete drawings of nature with an impressionist, abstract style.

“We both have nature in common, and we travel to certain places because of that,” Bob said. “When I go to a place, I write down my impressions and bring photographs back. I’m considered a metaphysical landscapist.”

One of Bob’s works in the exhibit is a collage made from 24 10-by-10-inch wood veneer square panels that he pieces together like a checkerboard, to create different impressions of the Amazon. It is called “Fragmentos de Paisagem” (Fragments of the Landscape) #29.

“It shows the deep roots of the Rio Negro (a tributary of the Amazon), the leaves and flora and fauna,” he said of the work. “You can see a bit of water, strips of a stem. Everything is wet and dripping, all the time.”

50 trips to Brazil

During a slide show/talk at the gallery on Sept. 14, Bob will share some of the photographs he’s taken during his 50-some trips to Brazil, including around 10 visits to the Amazon region of Brazil and its headwaters in Iquitos, Peru.

“The talk is about the Amazon and how it affects me,” he said. “Marauders burn trees to make charcoal in kilns. There’s no electricity. There’s a slide of a spider web created by one giant spider, who catches birds in the web and eats them.”

The Amazon is enveloped by so much green foliage, he said, that when you see something that is red, that’s all that you remember. The black and purple hues of the massive river and its tributaries seep through his paintings alongside vibrant shades of burgundy and ochre, orange and purple.

“Flooding figures into my works,” he said. “There are always things in the river - flowers, roots and bugs. In the rainy season, even the houses float. Alligators get trapped in the Pantanal (a tropical wetlands in Mato Grosso do Sul) when it floods and the water recedes. You see their eyes at night.”

Bob grew up in Santa Monica and received his Master of Fine Arts degree in painting in 1971 from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was trained to draw like Leonardo da Vinci in a baroque, draftsman style.

While studying with a master paper-maker in Japan, he met a Brazilian artist, Octavio Roth of Sao Paulo, who insisted that he come visit Brazil.

“I went to see him in 1984, and I met an anthropologist, (Dr. Vera Penteado Coelho),” he said. “I was hooked. Then I got a Fulbright (scholarship) to go back in 1986.”

With Coelho, Bob spent time studying the art of the Waura tribe of the Alto-Xingu in Mato Grosso, Brazil, an Aruak-speaking tribe that tells its myths through three-dimensional designs on pottery and their own bodies.

Capture rainforest

Bob’s Amazonian works are partially inspired by the botanical illustrations of Margaret Mee, a British artist specializing in plants from the Amazon rain forest. While there are many photographers currently working in the Amazon, he believes he is one of the few painters trying to capture the rainforest as it is slowly eroded by tree loggers and gold miners.

“I want them to save the Amazon,” he said. “As a nation, Brazilians have not taken to it. Most have not visited there, so they have no sense of what they are losing ... 80 percent of the drugs we use for fighting cancer come from the Amazon.”

In Healdsburg, the couple’s home is full of monkey skulls, alligator heads, wooden spears, feather headdresses and other Indian artifacts they have collected in their travels over the years as inspiration for their art. The Petaluma exhibit will include a display case with some of these objects, including prints of birds, notebooks and natural materials like seed pods.

Recently retired after 25 years as an art instructor at Windsor High School, Lynda is enjoying the freedom to travel with her husband and pursue her own artwork. She enjoys working with graphite on vellum because she likes the contrast and simplicity.

“When I do work, I want something immediately,” she said. “I don’t have to think about color.”

The couple collaborated once before, while creating a series of wine labels for the Imagery Wine Label Project. This time around, they chose photos of nature from their Tahiti vacation, each interpreting them in separate works.

“It was hard to find photos that we both liked,” Lynda said. “We had to struggle and compromise.”

Despite their different mediums, each artist likes to stay open to change as a way of keeping their work alive.

“Both of our work seems to evolve,” Bob said. “It’s all fertile ground.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

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