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Exhibitions plumb artistic responses to disaster

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 5, 2013 at 6:41 pm •  Published: February 5, 2013

"Artists and arts organizations have the skills and capacity to craft recovery projects that address the less tangible cultural and psychological recovery needs of a community," Nutt wrote in an email, citing concerts, exhibitions and public art.

In the past year, Nutt's group has begun collecting stories like those and plans to post them soon on its Studio Protector website in the hopes of inspiring arts organizations to do the same after future disasters.

After a tornado blew down thousands of homes in Tuscaloosa, resident and nonprofit program manager Jean Mills launched "Beauty Amid Destruction," a public art project featuring banners installed along the debris field. About 50 artists nationwide donated works, something Mills said helped some local artists "jump-start their energy."

"It gave the notion that there was a gift out there in the landscape," she said. "It said art has a place in the recovery."

Devastating wildfires in Southern California in 2007 were the impetus for Art from the Ashes, a group started by artist Joy Feuer. It collects disaster debris and encourages artists to turn twisted metal, wood, glass and ash into sculptures, paintings and ceramics.

For John Gordon Gauld, a Brooklyn artist whose still life depicting the remnants of his flooded studio is featured in "After Affects," making sense of the loss of materials and works to the storm means embracing it.

"In the post-storm work, there is this sense of nature taking back the objects that I've collected," Gauld said.

O'Neal is still rebuilding his studio but simultaneously readying his psychedelic-like watercolors, which he compares to Andy Warhol's abstract oxidation paintings, for a solo exhibition in March at Mixed Greens gallery in Chelsea.

"Prior to the storm I was experimenting with working in abstraction, but was questioning my motives," O'Neal said. "Sandy gave me the opportunity to take the leap."