Totems, Murals and Cake: Nadia Utto’s Ways of Seeing

By Sandra Schulman WPB Magazine Arts & Entertainment writer, Music and Film Producer.

Nadia Uttos
16 Slices of Life by Nadia Utto

A well traveled artist who speaks several languages, Nadia Utto’s art and art projects are informed by a love of nature and ways of seeing the world.

Nadia Uttos
Nadia Uttos

“I do my work as a thinking person first,” Utto says. “I was partly raised in Europe and can speak several languages and that helps me to ‘see’ things differently. The Alaskans have 20 different words for snow, and I recently learned a Japanese word  – Komorebi – which translates to ‘sunlight through the trees’. Just that image through that one word is art to me.”

Growing up in the Midwest and Austria, Nadia Utto has over 35 years of experience in several arts disciplines, as well as a Masters Degree in Sculpture and Ceramics. She has run galleries and participated in more than 60 juried, solo and group exhibitions in America and Europe. A Florida resident for over 20 years, she works with her husband Josef in a company called Urban Camouflage Arts Company that does restoration and furniture services.

When she moved to the small town of Hobe Sound, she saw all the blank walls and decided the town needed murals to brighten things up.

“We’ve done the sides of restaurants, stores, real estate offices and more,” she says. “Most people want beach scenes so we oblige that but we also try to do scenes that are more interesting visually and have to do with the towns history. There is no county approval process like in bigger cities so that makes things easier to get done. It’s a different type of charm for this town, and for us it’s a labor of love.”

Nadia Utto took a month long trip to Peru several years ago and was fascinated by the textiles, sights, sounds, and designs she saw while mountain climbing, seeing the sunrise over Machu Picchu, and hearing musicians. She was especially enamored of the various eco-systems that ranged from deserts to rain forests, something she says was akin to having a spiritual experience.

When she got back to the states she started thinking how show could re-create an eco system in an object – an environment one could feel, a “moment to connect to.” To make her vision, she bought at 15 -foot block of foam “it was as big as my jeep” she laughs, and carved what she calls a “trial desert”.

Nadia Utto and her art

The result was the Eco Chair Desert for One, a low slung shape “like a sports car” you could sink down into and be surrounded by. Covered in cement and ringed by a trough filled with earth and then potted with cactus and succulent plants, the bizarre chair works as a mini environment.

There are more in the series, including a Waterfall Chair, a Meadow Chair and the flat out funny No Man is An Island chair with a full size palm tree sticking out of the oval shaped land mass. One of her Desert Chairs has a four-foot cactus growing out of it.

Another series of work aimed at being a three-minute format, something akin to a song, is the Slice of Life series. The cake shaped slices are made of everything from mini picket fences to concrete to plastic numbers glued together. Displayed together on a wall they create a place where confection, art and culture intersect.

“I also wanted them to be something people could afford and commit to,” Nadia Utto says. “Large art is great but sometimes a small piece that makes you think and feel can be just as appreciated.”

The little slices work as a whole and also individually, they are winking with a bit of humor, sarcasm, plays on words but also quite beautiful just as an object. A simple shape but one with some heavy thought behind it.  More than just a piece of cake.

Her totems are another example of a simple shape packed with layers – literally – of meaning. Called “The History of Us”, the cultural totems explore “the concepts of the path an individual has taken, the road a family is on or the direction civilization is going.” The structure mimics both the scientific process of archeological excavation to understand the evolution of a person or place through time. Using densely packed items – jewelry, model cars, electronic parts – the bits and pieces begin to add up to a whole in a layered visual narrative.

So what really informs her work is the thinking behind it, and from being between cultures.

“Art and science is really a like state of mind,” she says. “nature relates to culture, architecture relates to religion which relates back to culture. I was inspired by a book and series called ‘Ways of Seeing” by John Berger written in the 1970s.”

Ways of Seeing is one of the most stimulating and the most influential books on art. First published in 1972, it was based on the BBC television series. The series and book criticize traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden ideologies in visual images.

Nadia Utto is currently trying to figure out how to produce a line of the Eco Chairs as the one at at time hand carved way they are made now is time consuming. She continues planning murals for her community and also has designs for the first public fountain.

“It all ties in at a certain level,” she says. “I am more of a sculptor than a painter and love seeing the ideas I get from the world made into the art.”

For more of her work see