The Mind Is A Zoo

Shore Lines by Dan Nuttall
Dan Nuttall, SHORE LINES, acrylic on wood panel,  4 x 8′, $5000 CAD

The landscape in this painting was created through the reconfiguration of an abandoned bear exhibit found in a zoo. Originally opened in 1962 the bear exhibit expresses the era’s design thinking – nature simplified, abstracted into modern geometries that keep the animal contained and on view while accommodating the display of some behavior patterns. If the exhibit’s role in animal containment can be set aside the bear exhibit is actually quite a beautiful assemblage of shapes and spaces, a giant concrete sculpture squatting in a bowl, a sunken hollowed-out Guggenheim. The composition has clean lines and hard edges with nature abstracted as tunnel, bridge, pond, cliff face, edge, promontory and plain. The eye can discern different paths for movement and the minimal slopes that accommodate both the need for maintenance and animal safety.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 1″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

Mimesis is defined as imitation. Mimicry, for example is a form of mimesis in which, over evolutionary time frames, one group of organisms evolves to share the characteristics of another group – often as a form of conferred protection. The role of mimesis extends to the act of painting itself – artists try to imitate things. To what end the serialized imitations of nature found in art?

 

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 2″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

Initially, the bear occupied an in situ habitat which was re-imagined as an ex situ zoo exhibit. Using the ex situ exhibit as a starting point the painting reorganizes the exhibits design language and, this time, imagines a novel “wild space”, transforming the exhibit into another habitat, a new wild. This new wild, metaphorically speaking, “returns” both the bear and the viewer to the wild. Further iterations are possible. In the painting the repetition of lines and shapes creates repeated spaces. The repetition allows the eye to make comparisons and to begin to sense pattern and discrepancy – akin to an animal surveying its surroundings. The repetition of form, with its genesis in nature should seem familiar to us – the observer is a sensing animal after all – and introduces a kind of déjà vu – a recollected story told through the repeated use of known words or phrases. What we know, as human animals, is coming back to us, inverted and flipped, playing with our perception and yet familiar.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 3″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

The oneiric state of the painting provides an overarching serenity linking both the familiar and the strange. One wonders what animals dream when they are born in captivity and exposed solely to a single environment. Is there still something deep and rudimentary that can arise from a genetic or shared consciousness? Some archetypical memory? As one gazes, the familiarity of lines and compositions is upended by the congruency of the synthetic whole and the desire to make sense of it. The water in the lower right hand corner of Shore Lines places the observer in the water, looking at the shore, as if in a boat, possibly adrift. There, at the edge, notions of distance, containment, barriers to movement and isolation come to the fore. Animal movement is naturally limited. Islands, mountain ranges, rivers, oceans. Is this the ultimate conundrum, coming to terms with the kinds of spaces animals will inhabit? How big should they be? Who should control inputs and outputs? Which species get to survive? Is domestication going to be the ultimate destiny for anything we allow to survive? Does it matter whether bars are visible or invisible? Does it matter that our dreams are merely stage sets designed by those who construct and narrate our realities? What thoughts should we be having about the fate of non-human animals? You can dwell on that HERE.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 4″, acrylic on wood panel, 30 x 40”

 

These paintings will be on display at my first solo art exhibition, at Lee Contemporary Art in Orillia, Ojtario, August 10 – September 2, 2017. More about Lee Contemporary Art HERE.

You can see all the paintings in the above show HERE.

And find out more about my larger  body of work here: www.dandoesdesign.com

 

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The Artist Project 2016

I am very pleased to be exhibiting my work at the juried art show:

THE ARTIST PROJECT

February 18-21
Better Living Centre, Exhibition Place, Toronto
Booth #105

Please feel free to share this post with anyone you know that likes art and might be intrigued spending a few hours with 250 of the finest!

Here is a brief video highlighting a few of the works I will be showing…

 

 

More of my work may be seen HERE on my web site: http://www.dandoesdesign.com

 

Naming, Freedom and Responsibility in Art

 

dan nuttall art west coat (killer whale) diptych layout 1

For the most part I tend towards abstraction. To me this means that there there are no immediate and obvious visual references that come to mind. Right away I feel a kind of freedom. Abstraction doesn’t tell you what to do – however – it doesn’t mean you’re NOT being manipulated or influenced by what is on the canvas. What do you see in the un-named image above? Take a moment or two. Spoiler alert, the paintings get named below.

dan-nuttall-dandoesdesign-art-painting-Harris abstract landscape in cool blue
Abstract in Cool Blue 1 by Dan Nuttall

The “lack” of easily understood visual references doesn’t mean that that there is “nothing” there or the work  lacks intellectual content. Every piece has some sort of genesis, some sort of impulse, some idea suspended in a moment or across millions of moments that blend together, braiding the stream that carries the artist’s work over the falls. Staying afloat/engaged/ immersed is the hard part. Picture a month at sea on a raft made of a single thought. Reaching a shore with a painting is the goal.

Naming an abstract piece as “Untitled” or with a simple descriptor (e.g., “Abstract In Cool Blue 1”) helps maintain the “openness” or sense of freedom in accessing the work. It’s still wide-open to interpretation. Naming a work is a sort of nucleus, the grain of sand in the thought-oyster. Ideas coalesce around it.

dan nuttall art west coat (killer whale) diptych layout 1
West Coast (Killer Whale) diptych by Dan Nuttall

When I named the diptych “West Coast (Killer Whale)” it’s because the stream of consciousness wetting my pigments involved a cascade of thoughts about my life on the West Coast of Canada, my time around killer whales, my love of the woods and wood and water, the errant tangy salt and brightness that stung my eyes, the cooling reprieve of depth – deep green-blues – the smell of cedar, sleek black skin steaming at the surface, the gentle push of wet spilling over flanks.

As an artist I also like how abstract work escapes comparison to some version of perfection (“That’s a terrible painting of a sunset”). And yet, when we look at wildlife art the urge to depict accurately and realistically images of the things we see – is rote. Of course there is no perfection and the “errors” are perhaps where things begin to get interesting.

Dan Nuttall art great currasow bird
Great Curassow 1 by Dan Nuttall

For me, I am always wondering about the animal perspective and so the eye, the face, and body language play roles in establishing how the animal is relating, in that moment, to the world. The artist, in a sense, becomes a manipulator of the animal and questions of responsibility entail. I like my birds proud, and magical, a bit mysterious, any realism directed toward capturing and holding the eye of the beholder to induce respect and appreciation, and to allow wonder in the forms of questions: How do such creatures exist?  What are their fates to be? Look these animals in the eye and tell me what you see.

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Nature Via Nurture: What The Painting Saw

I admit to being genetically and socially constructed – though much like author Matthew Ridley, I see “nature” as via “nurture”. By this mean that our environments can affect gene expression and nature and nurture work collaborate to create outcomes.

I grew up in a culture that shaped how I participate. I spent less time in the gym and team sports because I didn’t want to be undressing with the other boys. It was my attraction to them that drove me away – my true nature would not be nurtured in such an environment.

Often, when I am working on art, I am working “automatically”, in what I call stream of consciousnesses. You can see my art HERE and on FB HERE.  To me, the work is proceeding “instinctively” but I know that the pall of previous and present experiences are there as well. I recently visited the Brooklyn Museum and turned a corner to find Monet’s “Vernon In The Sun” (1894), confronting my nature, nurturing my gaze.

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Claude Monet, “Vernon In The Sun”, 1894, Brooklyn Museum

I have conversations with friends and make “pacts” with myself that will challenge me as an artist. While in New York recently, and knowing I would be gallery-hopping, I challenged myself to “re-consider a knee-jerk negative reaction to a piece of art”.

I was set to pass by “Vernon In The Sun” – with its sweet indistinct colours. I murmured some kind of negative reaction and proceeded around the corner to something more to my liking. You could literally hear my shoes squeal when I realized what I was doing. I walked back, prepared to confront the piece. It stared right back.

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Sweet Array of Colours by Dan Nuttall

It was the overall colour scheme, the “sweet colours” in red, pink and baby blue. It was the indistinct-ness of the whole – my eye had to work to delineate shapes and identify objects. It was going to take time and did I not have more important quarry? All set to interpret and tell this painting what it was, I realized that it was reading me. Nurturing me. Being diagnostic. Here’s what the painting saw:  a hurried, dismissive individual who wanted clarity, and bold contrast to help him organize his thoughts so he could “get it” and move on. Yikes, I was being “read” by a painting. The Brooklyn Museum‘s web-site describes the painting, in part, as follows:

          “In this instance, hazy sunshine blurs the Gothic church’s carved details as well as the distinction between architecture and foliage, river and bank. Monet thickly and uniformly brushed undifferentiated strokes of pale purple, pink, blue, and green across his canvas, creating a dry, encrusted surface”.

I thought about the painting on the subway as I returned to Brooklyn for the evening. And I thought about my own censorship and the blushing, candied paintings I had thrown away over the years. Here’s an example:

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And the same again, but more consistent with the art I tend to release:

the-river-(right)-art-dan-nuttall-oil-pastel-painting-nature-water-web

I think they make a beautiful pair.

My work will be on display at The Artist Project, February 18-21, 2016, at the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place. Please drop by Booth 105 and say hello!

 

 

The Artist Project 2016 – My First Time

Toronto has a burgeoning art scene and one of the great joys of this metropolis is attending both indoor and outdoor art shows. You can find a brief overview of some of Toronto’s art shows HERE (keep in mind this an overview of 2015 shows – check back for updates on BlogTO in a few months for 2017). In the mean time you can track whatever shows seem to appeal to you in terms of geography and timing. My personal faves are are: Art Toronto, the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, and The Artist Project 2017 which is occurring February 23-26 at the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place in Toronto.

Ever wondered what it takes to be a part of a juried art fair in Toronto? Well, last year was my first time ever at The Artist Project and I can tell you – it’s challenging!! What are the variables that an artist (ahem, businessperson) must consider?


 

LIST OF ITEMS TO CONSIDER FOR ART SHOW BOOTH by dandoesdesign

  1. Creating a check list. You’d be surprised at what I am taking on site – a blow dryer (for removing vinyl name lettering at end of show, a cordless drill, business cards, price list, e-mail sign up sheet, material for closing off booth at night, a tooth brush, a small desk, a chair, a step-ladder).
  2. Reading and signing your contract (read carefully, are there any opportunities for refunds if you fall ill or there is some other interruption)? If you became ill could someone take over for you?
  3. Determining how much space you need (10 x 10′, 10 x 15′, 5 x 10′) and whether a corner booth or being part of a row is to your advantage.Last year I was part of a row and I don’t think my booth received any “more” or “less” attention than those around me based solely on booth location.
  4. Paying for space, electrical outlets, lighting, storage, liability insurance, parking pass, technology to process payments, materials for wrapping sold items, name signage, tools and supplies for hanging art, price lists, business cards, promotional materials, booth furniture (you have to sit at some point!).
  5. Transporting your art to site and having someone to help you – this is a job for two!
  6. Storing your art on site (if available).
  7. Staffing your booth when you need a break.
  8. Booth security (you’re not allowed to spend the night in your booth!)
  9. Determining how purchases will be processed (think HST/technology/cost).
  10. Solidifying and promoting your brand – and being consistent across social and traditional media (sign in book? gathering visitor’s business cards? handing out your own?).
  11. Determining which works you will show and how this fits into your overall art career strategy. This is the ultimate challenge. What will sell? Will you fill each wall from floor to ceiling or undertake a more spartan approach? If a curator or gallery owner walks by what might they think?
  12. Your personality. Can you stand for 8 or more hours and smile and be pleasant and entertain questions of all sorts and speak about your  art if requested?

 

If you’re curious about what item 2, above, adds up to, drop by my booth in 2017 and I will be happy to discuss.

You’ll also have to determine who you might like to invite to an Opening Gala if there is one. In my case it was two ardent collectors who have supported my work over the years. If there are additional general admission tickets available you’ll have to decide who else might like to come – again in my case I have an e-mail list of people who have purchases in the past and who promote my work – they get first crack. You’ll also have some free tickets to give away during regular show hours – make sure you line these people up too!

TAP art sequence
Cloud Cover (L), Shore Lines (C) and Siwash (R)

I use my computer to lay out my space in both plan and exploded elevation. In plan I can place my lights, art, front desk and furniture for visitors. I also use this approach to lay out the sequence of images should one/some/any of them sell.

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Abstracts in Cool Blue (L), War Machines (C) and Black Clouds (Vancouver)(R)

In my case I asked two knowledgeable individuals that I trust to “read me the riot act” – what stays, what goes, and what excites them? How do the pieces related to each other? What story can I tell about an “set” that occupies my walls? What role does chronology play? One of these individuals is an art administrator/programmer/consultant and the other is a well known artist/jurist/curator. Both are avid visitors to art happenings and shows. Thanks to both of them for their counsel – it’s hard for artists to look at their work from the outside and I can’t thank you enough!!!

Looking across all your work an overall theme or subset of themes may play an organizing role, as might colour or how linework complements or leads the eye. Content may be irrelevant at a distance. I am also going to have a diversity of price points including some slightly earlier pieces which are smaller and less costly so that I can accommodate all types of collectors. I remember being a student and wanting to support art!

 

 

There’s no denying that blue is the world’s favourite colour and scenes of nature are therapeutic but that’s not stopping me from introducing some bold works that abstract, or address topics like extinction, my recently discovered aboriginal history, animal intelligence and machines of war.dan nuttall extinction is a won war dodos art

If you decide to enter a fair or art show just keep in mind your budget, your long term art goals and your willpower. Keep your web site and social media up to date. You can see my web site HERE and my artist profile for The Artist Project 2016 HERE and a piece donated for fundraising which will be sold HERE.

And lastly, stay the course. Whenever I feel challenged in any moment my last battle cry is” ONWARD!

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capturing Nature

Dan Nuttall, A Bird in the Hand, proposed poster for The Women's Global Call for Climate Justice.
Dan Nuttall, A Bird in the Hand, proposed poster for The Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice.

When you spend a lot of time around something, anything, you pick up its shape, its various curves, its colour in different lights, its scent, its boundaries from different angles. The more you look, the more you know, the more you can intuit. Think of birds for example. When I look at bird art I can tell how familiar the artist truly is with the species in question. I recently picked up some ceramic nuthatches by Lisa Creskey which were for sale at Craft Ontario on Queen Street, in Toronto. Deceptively simple little “lumps” of clay – as coy as nature herself – they resonate in the hand and stir in the heart.  I have a thing about birds in the hand. I get the same feeling when I look at work by Susie Osler. Osler’s “Objects for the Hand and Heart” are winsome, attentive yearnings brimming with life’s energy. Again, an artist so much at attention that her vocabulary allows the creation of new living things, new and resonant forms of nature.

One day, in Mexico, I looked out my window to see two small forms on the ground. One of the forms flew away – rocketing over the decomposing rock walls of my yard – a Ruddy Ground Dove. The other, I picked up and held as it died – the world above the two of us still captured in its moist reflecting eye.

Palm Tree by Marie Finkelstein
Palm Tree by Marie Finkelstein

I painted my feeling for that bird and gave it a gaze that would allow it to ask for an eternity. Later I proposed the painting as poster for The Women’s Global call for Climate Justice – part of a campaign to raise awareness as a lead up to their conference this fall in Paris, France.

The dove that died had been feeding on the ground under a native Yucatan palm tree. I have spent a lot of time around palm trees – planted a few, cut a few down, drank palm wine, gathered palm seeds, and gazed at them in gob-smacked admiration. Looking at the work of Marie Finkelstein, recently on view at Gallery 1313,  I have the same feeling again. She has spent time gazing and knows the movement of a frond, the slight sway of a trunk, how to make the palm as strong as the sky. How to make a tree formidable in concert with a blazing sun and inky shadows. The show closed yesterday, but Marie’s work may be found online and, does what I feel great artists do  – capture life in their hands and raise it like a glass to our lips, to quench the psyche, our eyes and stomachs and hearts. 

Meet Art… Your New Roommate

Man Choking Weasel
Man Choking Weasel by Dan Nuttall
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Woman Stealing Egg by Dan Nuttall

ʻMany contemporary exhibitions focus with grim earnestness on the difficulties of social justice, environmental degradation or economic inequity. Adding humor to the equation dismantles the sense of insistent authority and reminds us that we are all complicit in these inequities. Humour can offer an astute as well as cathartic and even magical way to deal with big issuesʼ (Coblentz, 2009, sourced here).

I have no idea how some pieces come about. After drawing the weasel I realized it was floating in mid air. So, I added some hands for support. Somehow or other the hands seemed to suggest that the weasel might be getting choked. So, I called it “Man Choking Weasel”. Like many relationships between human and non-human animals it seems very enigmatic: Why would anyone be holding let alone choking a weasel? Of course, weasels have an unfortunate name to start with. I decided I needed a companion piece and I wanted this one to be enigmatic too. My subsequent thoughts were rural, farm based and gendered. So, we have a woman stealing an egg. A fairly big egg.

These two images, like still frames from an as-yet-to-be imagined film, allow the viewer to make up the story. Does this allow for a level of participation that may not be found in other forms of art? While we might from time to time situate ourselves in a painting, we rarely take the time to build a larger story. The typical amount of time in front of a piece of art is a mere 15-30 seconds. It’s hard to build a narrative from such a short exposure, but on the other hand, maybe the capacity to build a narrative is based on the psychic impact or the “relatability” of the piece rather than the temporal commitment.

Unlike public galleries the pieces we choose to place in our homes receive a different temporal and psychic complement. Like the people we choose to have in our lives pieces of art interact with us in both incidental and strategic ways. At a recent art event in Toronto I happened upon a beautifully executed work that captured some of the horror of war. I loved it, but couldn’t live with it. It belonged somewhere – just not too close to me. I could feel its weight, its importance – but it would be like living with a continuously looping war movie splayed on a wall in your home.

So perhaps when we think of inviting Art over we should consider whether he is staying for a short visit, is a potential roommate or a life partner. Art can be a light-hearted guest, and this bodes well for long term relationships.

Man Choking Weasel / Woman Stealing Egg, 9 x 12″, oil pastel on archival paper, framed. These works will be shown at Black Cat Artspace, 2186 Dundas Street West, from November 26th to December 31st in the Salon of Inclusiveness II, Holiday Show + Sale. Say hello to Art for me!  Or, for additional works or queries, visit me at my website or on Facebook.

Shore Lines

Shore Lines acrylic on wood panel 4 x 8'
Shore Lines
acrylic on wood panel
4 x 8′

The shore lines in this painting are derived from a line drawing I made of an abandoned polar bear exhibit located at Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia.

For me this painting is a part of the cycle of imagining nature. Here, the polar bear’s in situ habitat, imagined as ex situ zoo exhibit, is re-imagined as a wild space, symbolically returning the polar bear to the wild.

The painting is informed by the work of Canada’s Group of Seven.

Art Toronto 2015

Francis Bacon lithograph. Photo by Dan Nuttall
Francis Bacon lithograph. Photo by Dan Nuttall

Although the art world reveres the unconventional, it is rife with conformity. Artists make work that “looks like art” and behave in ways that enhance stereotypes. Curators pander to the expectations of their peers and their museum boards. Collectors run in herds to buy work by a handful of fashionable painters. Critics stick their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing so as to “get it right”. Originality is not always rewarded, but some people take real risks and innovate, which gives a raison d’être to the rest.
― Sarah Thornton, Seven Days in the Art World

It’s always somewhat of a conundrum to attend an art show as an artist.

Sumptuous and invigorating work by David R. Harper
Sumptuous and invigorating work by David R. Harper

Established galleries continue to sell what has always sold. There’s a Rita Letendre and an Ivan Eyre, a Walter J.Philips, a Francis Bacon lithograph, a Mary Pratt, members of The Group of Seven. This is the art that has created a lasting correlation between cultural and economic value – the art that is part of a market that has displaced more traditional forms of investment. I love these artists and their work.

“Swamp” by Denyse Thomasos

Then there are the galleries endorsing newer and often “unproven” artists. Rife with fresh ideas and holding new mirrors at strange angles, these galleries and their artists reflect our culture, our times, back to us. There is a criticality to the new galleries and their artists – one can see the production of “new” knowledge. Technology has its grip on modes of production and ways of seeing and interpreting.

Here’s to risk and innovation!

Bewilderness: If You Go Out In the Plantation Today…

raven1…you’re sure of a big surprise. Cause today’s the today I received a call from Susie Osler, a member of the fieldwork Collective, to tell me that sometime during the night my raven installation has been attacked! Is this a political act I wonder? Or the work of a vandal? On the one hand, this could be a good sign. A lot of great art has been attacked over the years: The Mona Lisa; The Pieta in the Vatican; Chris Ofili’s “Holy Virgin Mary” (1996). Susie goes back to the scene of the crime and sends me an image of the disfigured raven, including a close-up showing a small patch of fur stuck in the tar surface of the raven’s back. Dark fur. Black fur. Hmmm… Black Bear? I now have to re-align my theory regarding this act of desecration: clearly the piece has been attacked due to its realism. This could be taken as another good sign. A seal of approval from nature herself? Or perhaps, in staging the unconscious human mind, I have tapped into a greater unconsciousness or id, where primal nature is exerting its forces. The bear has finally subdued the intelligent and mischievous raven that can no longer act as a guide or talisman. On the other hand, maybe the bear just didn’t like my work. I am on my way back to Brooke Valley to repair the damage. Somewhere out there is a bear with tar on its paw.

 

More on Bewilderness HERE.