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Ordinary Time: Brian Nixon and David Gatt Create Historical Art

Translated from Latin, tempus per annum—through the year—“ordinary time” is the name given to a period of time within the Christian liturgical calendar.

David Gatt and Brian Nixon in Santa Fe, New Mexico
(Photo: Rita Gatt)

For artists Brian Nixon and David Gatt, the intricate nature of their large-scale work follows the traditional liturgical calendar in scope—and in a very contemporary way.

Using the Albuquerque Journal as its guide, Ordinary Time builds meaningful layers through weekly collages of images culled from the newspaper, with acrylic paintings of petroglyphs and words spread throughout each work.

According to Brian Nixon, Ordinary Time was influenced by his walks through the petroglyphs on the west side in Albuquerque.

“I live at the base of the petroglyphs. When I moved back to New Mexico after a long hiatus in California, I wanted to move close to these ancient sites. Looking out my window is a daily reminder of this area’s great history.

“As I wander The Petroglyphs National Monument I naturally asked, What were the Anasazi people trying to say with these images? Are the petroglyphs religious in nature? Political? Social?

“It dawned on me that the images were probably all of the above. In a sense, the petroglyphs journal ancient Anasazi life in the Southwest: their beliefs, daily happenings, hopes, and fears.

“I realized that our modern newspapers are similar in nature. They chronicle our lives on a day-to-day basis, writing about our society like the Anasazi chronicled their lives with the petroglyphs.

“On another level, I have been saddened to see newspaper circulation fall. Our technologically-oriented life has almost doomed the newspaper as we know it. To a certain extent, the newspaper is becoming like the petroglyphs: an outdated form of communication, open for interpretation and study.

Why the use of the liturgical calendar in the title and scope?

“New Mexico has a rich and unique culture. There is no place like it in the United States. New Mexico culture—at least in its infancy—was a combination of Catholic ideology, Native American ethos, and Caucasian inquiry and industry. The combination of these three distinct people groups fashioned such a distinctive culture that one can only stand in awe of its various layers.

“The title Ordinary Time was used to capture the Christian witness within the work. It also provided a wonderful framework to highlight the passage of time and information through the use of newspaper images.”

Are there any other influences appearing throughout the work?

Suicides: Acrylic and mixed media on newsprint, November 1st, 2009 (Photo: Rita Gatt)

“Ledger art from the Five Civilized Tribes. My grandmother was a Cherokee Native American from Oklahoma. As I investigated the art of that region, I discovered ledger art: the process of drawing or painting over ledger notebooks or on other images available to the people. I was smitten by the art and have since become a huge fan.”

So where does David Gatt enter the picture?

“David and I have a fascinating history. I grew up in Albuquerque; David in California. David has family here in New Mexico. As a matter of fact, David’s New Mexico artistic lineage is quite impressive. His uncle is renowned Santero, Charles Carrillo. His other uncle is famed craftsman Jimmy Trujillo. Another interesting note is that David’s family is from Abiquiu, some of whom worked for Georgia O’Keefe.

“After my family moved from New Mexico to San Jose, California, I lived in the same general neighborhood as David. We had mutual friends in San Jose, California. We were at the same events and happenings. David even attended a few of the concerts of the band I was in. But we never connected until I moved back to New Mexico in 2008. David moved to New Mexico to be near his family and pursue his art in 1987.

“David and I have become great friends. I wanted him to be involved in this project. He did all the paintings, adding unique thoughts and insights to the work.”

As I look over Ordinary Time, it seems there are subtle political overtones. I sense the religious elements—but are the political elements intentional?

“Yes. There are some political nuances. Inherently, news has a political nature to it. As one chronicles time over the year, politics—even in small ways—are bound to show up.”

I was humored by many of the headlines—why were these particular headlines chosen?

“I’m not going to reveal the ‘why’. Individuals need to come to their own conclusion. They’re intentionally meant to cause one to ponder; to add greater meaning and depth to the work.”

Who are the people you elected to leave named on the work?

“They are the photographer’s names. David and I felt that we needed to keep the news photographer’s names present in the work. During President Obama’s campaign, an image was used by an AP photographer for a piece of artwork created by an artist—the famous “Hope” image—but the photographer wasn’t given credit until much later.

Double Life: Acrylic and mixed media on newsprint, November 8, 2009
(Photo: Rita Gatt)

“We didn’t want to do that. Because the newspaper images are so important to Ordinary Time, we wanted to keep the names of the photographers within the work. The photographer is not only part of the work: They are also individuals within the time chronicled in the piece.

How would you describe Ordinary Time?

“Ordinary Time is a large, mix-media work made up of 53 individual pieces. Using the Sunday edition of the Albuquerque Journal, it’s a collage of images taken from the newspaper and framed by charcoal. David added acrylic paintings and stencils of local petroglyphs, symbols, and names for each individual piece. As a whole, Ordinary Time is quite historic—in the literal sense of the word—in scope, interpretive history, and individual interpretation. It’s a commentary on life, faith, and history.

Their goal? “To cultivate a dialogue through culture that touches on important issues in life,” answered Brian.

I believe they’ve succeeded—to the glory of God.


Rebekah Hanson was born and raised in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, where she competed as a national champion in figure skating. After graduating with a J.D. from The Ohio State University, she moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is an editor and writer, and the mother of a beautiful daughter.

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