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updated 4/14/2005 9:24:13 PM ET 2005-04-15T01:24:13

The artist named Nall has carried Alabama to the Far East, Middle East and Europe, earning notice and wealth for himself while drawing curious foreign eyes to his roots.

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Now after more than two decades of sharing his state's earthy, bittersweet influence across the continents, the Southern symbolist is bringing to New York galleries some of Alabama's best art.

"Alabama is not the Alabama of 1910. We're very progressive," said Nall, a native of Troy in south Alabama whose drawl still lingers after spending years abroad. "We've been the butt of all the racial disturbances, the target of the civil rights movement.

"But we're raising the mental level of the public into accepting Alabama - we're very sophisticated in feeding the artist."

Nall will head a two-part exhibition, the first opening April 12 and showcasing some 150 of his etchings and mixed media compositions in "A Nall Retrospective" at The National Arts Club. The second, opening April 13, features works by 16 more Alabama artists at the 55 Water Street gallery.

"Alabama is exciting because it has a vibrant arts community and an internationally renown artist in Nall," said Aldon James, president of The National Arts Club.

Among the featured artists is author and master storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham of Selma, whose photography will be part of the show, and Jimmy Lee Sudduth, a 94-year-old self-taught artist from Fayette known for his mud-and-plywood paintings. Nall, who goes by his middle name, also will exhibit segmented, mixed-media portraits of each of the featured artists for the New York show.

The FloraBama Players, a group of musicians who play along the beachside Florida-Alabama state line, and chef Frank Stitt of the Highlands Bar and Grill - a Birmingham institution - will round out New York's Alabama experience for the eyes, ears and tastebuds.

"It's going to be very unanticipated because nobody would believe it would happen," said David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, which owns the 55 Water Street building.

"New York in many ways is the arts capital of the world. If your work is exhibited in New York, it'll be seen by individuals from across the world," added Al Head, executive director of the Alabama Council of the Arts. "We feel the work of Alabama artists holds its own nationally and we need more people to realize that and appreciate it."

James said New York has been ready for Nall for "quite" a while, but it took the artist years to wind down his international studies and projects long enough to make time for the city. "There isn't a better ambassador for Alabama than Nall," he said.

"If you look at his life, the learning curve, all the multiple international influences, it takes time for all those sources to come together," James said. "He's in New York when he needs to be."

For Nall, the monthlong exhibitions are more than a chance to show off the works amid an atmosphere of cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and chamber music so common between gallery walls. It's yet another opportunity to shake off Alabama's racially-charged history and, he says, "reveal its soul."

"With Alabama, the soul needs to be explained. The artist says what he feels, he is expressing from his soul. This beauty and this truth and this richness is far superior than what the world looks at Alabama as being," he said in a phone interview from his house in Fairhope, a tranquil resort at Mobile Bay and one of the half-dozen places around the world he calls home.

Nall and his wife, Tuscia, typically split the year between Alabama's coast, Monte Carlo, the Italian city of Parma and Vence near the French Riviera - home of his Nall Foundation, a live-in studio where young artists in a variety of media have a chance to study and flourish in Europe.

The bulk of this year will be spent in Italy, where he has created costumes and sets for Giacomo Puccini's "Girl from the Golden West." The opera will open the Puccini Festival in Tuscany July 22, after which Nall will continue his visit to study 16th century oil painting techniques. He also has been commissioned by Prince Albert of Monaco to create a postage stamp for the 30th anniversary of the principality's Carnival.

The whirlwind romances with the European arts have been a lifelong affair.

In his days as a student, Nall studied in Paris at Ecole des Beaux-Arts and then apprenticed with famed surrealist Salvador Dali. After studying art and architecture in the Middle East, Africa and India and learning mosaic techniques in northern Mexico, he began segmenting his compositions with materials and elements that often reflected his surroundings.

In Nice, once again familiarizing himself with the natural landscapes characteristic of that region of France, he incorporated native flowers and insects into his works. After heading shows in Europe and the U.S. for more than two decades, he felt a tug to return to Alabama, where he began helping young artists at Troy University and the University of Alabama.

His most recent studio venture will bring French students to Fairhope through his Nall Foundation and take Alabama's up-and-coming artists to his studio in Vence - creating another tie between the two cultures.

"My hopes are to exchange ideas and initiatives between the two countries, as the French established Mobile Bay 300 years ago," he said. "We have much in common, without knowing it."

On the Net:

www.nall.org

Alabama Arts at www.arts.state.al.us

The National Art Club at www.nationalartsclub.org

55 Water Street at www.55water.com/

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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