Perhaps the oil paintings of Brent Nageli are as breathtaking as they are because the artist spent his entire life practicing within his heart and soul, all the while believing that canvas would forever elude him. Nageli is colorblind. It is a condition his teachers discovered when, as a child, he purposely colored faces green. And so it was a trick of biology that colored Nageli's artistic spirit and the world of artistic creation for which he longed.
Nageli went on to succeed in business, eventually owning his own construction supply company – all the while longing to be an artist and dabbling in everything from drawing to wood carving to rock art. Then, in 2006, everything changed. Nageli met an oil painter to whom he confessed his longing and was invited back to the artist's studio. It was there that he was mentored into developing a series of palette charts, essentially "recipes" for accurate colors. And that was all it took to unlock a tremendous talent that had incubated long enough.
Impressionistic paintings emerged first but it wasn't long until Nageli's life-long interest and admiration for Native Americans led him to the Powell Museum in Page, AZ, where a beautiful old pot caught his eye. For Nageli, recreating it in oil paints on canvas was now a natural response. Captured beautifully were the pot's sumptuous earth tones and the radiance of lights against darks. The artist had found his calling.
Nageli was born and raised in Utah against the landscapes and cultures of Native America; his artistic path now brought him to Arizona where he settled first by Lake Powell and served as President of the Lake Powell Art Association.
Every one of Nageli's canvases honors a lineage of pottery making by Native American artists whose artistic choice requires that talents, efforts and skills be applied to a "canvas" – their pots – which may necessitate a humble letting-go when a pot cracks in firing. It is an attitude to life, to the earth, a respect for all things including success and defeat that draws Nageli to his earthen subjects.
Nageli begins each painting with either an actual pot or a photograph from one of the many pottery collections he visits at notable southwest museums. For his larger canvases he will sketch a few lines first before he picks up his paintbrush; for smaller works he simply paints free-hand. One large work, "Acoma Parrot," a 30" x 30" painting, captures the brilliant surface and curvature of a pot that dates back to roughly the 1860s. The black background on which Nageli floats the pot lends dynamic import to the pot's polychrome hues of terracotta reds, ochres and smoky black with the distinctive white of Acoma clay tying together the design.
The skill with which Nageli paints allows each work, from a distance, to look as though it is the actual clay piece being observed – until closer inspection reveals that his canvas, while two-dimensional, has nevertheless captured a life-force beyond measure.