A Snapshot of Canadian Landscape Art


Siwash by Dan Nuttall

Recently I had the pleasure of participating in the The Carmichael Canadian Landscape Exhibition: Tradition Transformed. You can read about the history of this exhibition, now in its 14th year, here.

All the things we see in life, we see in art. However, not all of the things presented in art can be found in life. The impossibleness of some of the work is central to its lucidity – Jane Austen’s “Wave Action” or Carolyn Doucette’s “Great North American Landscapes Vol. 2 #2 (Pender Island, BC)” are fine examples. I am reminded of a quote: ” These things, because they are false, are closer to the truth” Baudelaire, in “Salon of 1859 ” (Paris).

Recording and memory plays a central theme in many of these works. Peter Adams’ “Earth Scars #5: Diavik Diamond Mine” and “On the Road to Lavender” (those clouds!) serve as records – defying everything that has happened since while Jim Hake’s crumpled postcards, and Megan Moore’s digital sleight of hand “September 7th 1940” involve us in fictional nostalgia.

Blood Lake by Dan Nuttall

Sometimes the landscape has disappeared. Other times, it is the art or artist or subject. My own work, “Blood Lake” shown above, and not a part of this show, is a piece that exists only in digital form as I painted over this painting of a few years back. When I painted over it, largely in white, the reds, still wet, seeped into the new image – one set of thoughts bleeding into another. I see the pink and think about the  buried memories, my dead father, the dead moose – things once captured, things now lost.

The Orillia Museum of Art and History has now produced a catalogue for this show, available in electronic form, that allows readers to an overview of contemporary Canadian art, much of it dealing with “landscape”. You can find a link to this e-catalogue HERE.

At the end of the catalogue you can read about the jurors/artists Tanya Cunnington and Bewabon Shilling. Bewabon Schilling is represented by Roberts Gallery in Toronto. Tanya Cunnington is an artist and gallery owner – if you are in Orillia and wish to continue your journey through the woods of Canadian art I think a trip to her gallery “Lee Contempoarary Art” is a must.

Finally, all of these works, when shown, were for sale, and a price list can be found at the back of the e-catalogue. I invite you to locate these artists and their amazing works and to stake a claim on a vision of Canadian-ness.







Giant Mowed Grass

As Baudelaire once said “The whole visible universe is but a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination will give a relative place and value; it is a sort of pasture which the imagination must digest and transform.”

Nobel prize winners (1973) for their work in animal behavior, Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen worked with “supernormal stimuli”. A supernormal stimulus refers to an exaggerated version of a stimulus. Lorenz, for example, discovered that birds would prefer to incubate artificial eggs to their own – if the artificial eggs were identical but larger. More recently (2011) similar Nobel prize-winning research has demonstrated that beetles will copulate with the supernormal stimulus of discarded beer bottles. In an evolutionary and adaptive sense animals seem hard-wired to go big or go home.

Red Nest by Dan Nuttall

Human animals are no different – we also tend to move toward supernormal stimuli whether one is considering a cheeseburger or aspects of human anatomy. Think of Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” which, despite it’s source of inspiration being liquid mercury, is most often referred to as “the bean”. Or Hapa Collaborative’s gigantic bright red “bendy straw” in Vancover’s Mid-Main Park, that references the history of the site. Given the grounding of landscape architecture in the natural sciences, our professional mandate for stewardship, and the current state of ecological crisis how might such scaled up truths serve clients and users and the environment?? And is going “big” the only approach? Is additional thinking required?

Giant birch bark pathways designed by Dan Nuttall, MALA

In my recent work with Schollen & Company Inc. Landscape, some of our discussion has centered on bi-directional scaling of stimuli – taking big things and making them small and small things and making them big – all with the goal of providing landscape users the opportunity to “notice” and connect with ecology.


As Senior Designer and Project Manager of the newly opened Rouge Crest Park in Richmond Hills, Ontario, we took great pleasure and pride in going both big and small before going home. In this park the sun and its rays manifest as scored elliptical tree pit grates which shrink both light and the cosmos under the shade of a tree while eschewing the traditional forms of round or square.


Where a significant boundary to movement is required the innate attraction of humans to maintained grass is scaled up in a towering weathering steel fence, its rust colours punctuated by vibrant green, its upper limits shorn as if mown. Pathways have transformed to giant birch trunks; movement along the path is akin to scaling the tree’s bark. Tiny snowflakes drift as giant benches in the shade of trees.


Those exploring the scale of the park at its fullest scale will discover a spiral hill where an elliptical stone bench ensures direct in contact with a quote from Burroughs: “ I go to nature to be soothed and healed and have my senses put in order”. In the world of landscape architecture both big and small can appeal to the senses and perhaps this is central to putting our world back in order.