Faces & frogs

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Artist James Brutus, a recent grad of the College for Creative Studies, is a big fan of Nostradamus. And like the 16th century prophet, who concealed his insights in quatrains, Brutus crams his sketchbooks with symbols and metaphors. The 25-year-old artist has obsessively filled more than a few journals with frogs, known for centuries as magical healers (see annals of traditional Chinese medicine, American Indian folklore or Shakespeare's Macbeth).

Brutus also spends time studying street signs, observing the imagery from the vantage point of both sides of the law. Graffiti arrows tell stories all over his pages, leading ink paths to nowhere. He credits a friend from his hometown in Florida with introducing him to the scene years ago. "Graffiti always hits the target. My eyes lit up when I first saw all those colors on a crappy wall. It's art, but it's also a bunch of guys going out to play basketball."

Brutus involves himself in social issues locally. He recently moved to Chicago, where he's working on a mural for a children's center on the South Side, for instance. But he uses his journals to work out observations on international politics. His Refugee Series, from 2001, consists of provocative portraits of people who lost their homes and families in the Middle East, accompanied by newspaper and magazine clippings. Drawn in pencil and washed over in watercolor, the faces are stunning in their silence.

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