February 06, 2009

Out of their profoundly solitary pursuits, two of Pueblo's creative minds have collaborated on a project that mines three of humankind's most-discussed subjects.
"Love. God. Children." is the result of a partnership between artist Justin Reddick and poet John Nicholas. Their work will be on display at the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center beginning Saturday and running through May 9. It will be part of the arts center's "Show and Tell: Memory, Art, Community" exhibit.

Nicholas and Reddick met two years ago at the local grocery store where both of them work - Nicholas as a merchandising manager, Reddick as produce manager. Nicholas, 52, estimates he's written about 600 poems over the years. Reddick, 28, began painting only 10 years ago, but has built an impressive portfolio and exhibited his work in numerous shows.

While Nicholas is the more gregarious of the two, both men are extremely personable and quick-witted. Their collaboration began quickly, although it took months to bring it to life. Nicholas selected the poems - 30 in all, 10 each about the three title subjects - and gave them to Reddick to interpret on his own. "There was just this energy drawing us (to it)," Reddick said. "I basically locked myself in the studio for six months."

The poems reflect the driving forces in Nicholas' life: love, faith and kids - he has four, ages 16, 14, 12 and 8; they live with their mother in Idaho. Topics range from bugs (“Ten Ladybugs”) to the end of a relationship (“Empty Spaces”). The writing is straightforward and brimming with emotion, much like its author.
"It's not high and mighty," Nicholas said of his work. "I just want people to read and enjoy." For Reddick, the trick was to remove himself from the paintings; they usually are his most personal form of expression.

"This was different - going through John's head instead of mine," he said.

Likewise, Nicholas had to let go of any images of the poems that he had created in his mind. As both men discovered, amazing things can happen when you get out of your own way.

Reddick's first finished painting accompanied "The Size of Things," which is about one of Nicholas' young sons figuring out whether he is big or small. When he saw it, Nicholas was overwhelmed, as he continued to be with each successive work.

"Did you show me one thing where I didn't cry?" he said to Reddick. "It's come to the point now where the art is synonymous with the poem."

The men consider "Love. God. Children." the first in a series of planned works and are about to self-publish a book of the same title that features all of the paintings and poems. 

Something else happened as the project progressed. Reddick and Nicholas began to feel that their partnership was meant to be part of something larger, even if they couldn't necessarily explain it to themselves at first.

"When I see people touched and in tears by something in here, I know there's something more than words and drawings. There's a spiritual connection," said Nicholas. “(The pieces) all twist toward a higher power, a hope."

Reddick said the last year, for him, has been "a wellspring of that spiritual awakening."

They hope their work can lead others to discover - and make use of - their own creativity. Reddick is even considering a future in art therapy.

"Creativity is smacked down a lot, especially in childhood. I'm blessed that I was able to get the key to open my door (to it)," Reddick said.

"There's an energy in front of us," said Nicholas. "All we have to do is follow it."


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