Hiding in plain site, Ken Nevadomi (b. 1939) is a blue-collar artist from the gritty side of Cleveland with remarkable ability as a painter, and the bubbling, fertile mind of a gifted storyteller. While well-recognized in Cleveland in the 1980s, and oftentimes honored in this region, Nevadomi’s artwork is otherwise unknown. This rediscovery will certainly change that.
1988 CLEVELAND ARTS PRIZE FOR VISUAL ARTS
Ken Nevadomi’s paintings are as mysterious today as they were at the beginning of his career. The figure, whether human or animal, is paramount in his works, but the viewer has to interpret the world in which it exists. His paintings recall artists from cubism to surrealism but his influences are much broader. Ideas for his paintings may come from earlier artists, films, magazines or life filtered through his imagination.
On a trip to California in his youth he became interested in cartoon art and certainly some paintings suggest that source. From his early paintings to his present production Nevadomi’s brushstrokes and color have changed in various ways as befits the painting. However, the bold intensity of his subject matter remains constant.
Figures and animals find themselves caught in violent struggle with known and unknown adversaries, giving the works great power and passion.
Figures run from beasts, hide in refrigerators, float through the air or water, or merely contemplate their evidently forced confinement. They play cards or hang out in bars, but we never know why.
Critics suggest that his work reflects social commentary, but Nevadomi refers to it instead as “social expressionism.” The audience often sees in his enigmatic subject matter a sometimes frightening, sometimes humorous reflection on the human condition that conveys man’s fragile place in a turbulent and inexplicable society.
Ken Nevadomi does not add an artist’s statement to his works when they appear in exhibitions and does not explain of his complicated subjects. We find some hints in the titles of his paintings and in the works he makes in series—some refer to war and to Hitler and some to ancient mythology—but we are forced to interpret for ourselves.
In fact, Nevadomi encourages the viewer to take part in the work of art by supplying his own story. He has, however, indicated how he arrives at the finished work. Like his subjects and changing style, Nevadomi’s ideas go in various directions. When he begins a painting, he lets it take him where it leads, and he does not usually make preliminary compositional drawings.
His impressive finished works of art on paper suggest the same random thought process. Both paintings and drawings indicate the struggle he says it takes to arrive at his finished work. For all the apparently random movement, the thickly applied paint or the suggestively muted charcoal drawings, his carefully realized compositions and figures reflect a classical training and a deep understanding of human anatomy.
Nevadomi constantly experiments with compositions and media. He continues to produce his complicated “strip paintings,” which are canvases cut into strips and woven back together to construct an entirely different composition. Superficially akin to synthetic cubism, these works instead rearrange the still-recognizable composition into an expressive, exploding arrangement of form.
Some of the smaller works veer away from the figure into still life. He has also joined two dissimilar compositions to suggest new and interesting compositional and contextual relationships. As a respected artist and teacher, Nevadomi has shown that the dominance of painting as a medium persists into the 21st century.
A native Clevelander born in 1939, Ken Nevadomi earned his B.F.A. in 1972 from Columbus College of Art and Design and his M.F.A. in 1975 from Kent State University. His paintings have appeared in over 40 juried shows and at least 10 one-man shows since 1975, and he has won three individual artist grants from the Ohio Arts Council.
His work appeared in many May Show exhibitions, and he won first prize for painting in 1975. He paints from a studio on the west side and is currently professor of painting at Cleveland State University.
Works by Ken Nevadomi
Untitled Ken Nevadomi
It's a Mackerel Sky, 1986 Ken Nevadomi
Falling Artist , 1988 Ken Nevadomi
Two Dancing Women Ken Nevadomi
Man of Heart, 1990 Ken Nevadomi
Woman with Kimono, 1995 Ken Nevadomi
Piss Cat, c. 1997 Ken Nevadomi
Caravaggio Was Here, c. 2007 Ken Nevadomi
Umpire's Call, c. 2018 Ken Nevadomi
Girl with Pearls, c. 1980s Ken Nevadomi
The Acrobat Ken Nevadomi
Kneeling Woman Ken Nevadomi
Woman with Striped Hat, 1993 Ken Nevadomi