Outdoor Art : A Papel Picado Inspired by Mexico

 

We have spent considerable time in the Yucatan, Mexico. In that region almost any celebration results in the hanging of strings of “banderas de papel” called “banderitas” or, if referring to the traditional form of this art form, ”papel picado”, meaning “pecked paper”. I’ve always loved this idea of pecking and it brought to mind the many forms of “making” in birds. The pecking refers to the use of small metal chisels or blades that are struck with hammers to excise the open areas of the flags. The flags are piles in stacked layers and a pattern guide is used to ensure consistency across a large number of banderas. Tap, tap, tap, a flower blooms. Tap, tap, tap, a grinning skull takes shape. In our current times the flags are made of plastic.

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During our time in the #Yucatan Peninsula, #Mexico we could often hear the calls of the Ferruginous Pygmy #Owl. I used oil pastels to create this work on paper, celebrating the indominitable spirit of this small bird which is also, reportedly, an aggressive predator.

 

One day I came across a large rolled vinyl sign in the dumpster of a car dealership – about 5 feet in width and 20 feet long. It wasn’t long before I had this coiled languid tongue slung over my shoulder and, as many artists can relate to, I immediately felt both triumphant and apprehensive. One the one hand I had new art materials obtained at a great price. On the other hand I was wondering – where was I going to store it and what was I going to do with it? I had absolutely no idea. I counted on the fact that of the thousands of ideas constantly flowing through my head, one of them would stumble across a large vinyl log one day and fall face first into “art”. The coiled vinyl sign lay dormant, gathering dust for nearly two years.

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Dan Nuttall, #CACTUS MOB, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48″

 

The finishing of our new back yard this summer was a cause for celebration, we did all the design and implementation work ourselves. I thought of a party with small colourful “banderitas” but was daunted by the thought of finding and stringing a series of suspended lines in the back yard. Since art was always going to a part of our back yard, and space in downtown Toronto is always at a premium, I thought that a single large “papel picado” might suffice. It could occupy the far wall, serve as a focal point and lend an air of celebration and diversity to the setting. I would use the back of the vinyl sign as the front face, providing a thin white surface.

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Process: I created a digital drawing, printing it on letter sized paper (42 separate pages), taped them together and taped the completed image to the back of the repurposed vinyl banner.

It took a month to produce the flag including a week of cutting by hand with a small blade. The flow of memories in the form of plants and garden and insects kept my mind alive: zebra long-wing butterflies, cardboard palms, black-eyed susan vines, night blooming cactus, ginger plants, Plumeria. The content is all farmed from memory. Plants you see in the flag are actual species, done without further research, to the best of my memory as are the two owls called Ferruginous Pygmy Owls which we have often heard while in the greener areas of the city. The butterflies, owls and cactus have all been the subject of separate works of art.

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It took about 40 hours to excise all the tiny section within the papel picado (“pecked paper”). 

And so the “bandera de vinilo gigante ”, the “large vinyl flag”, has now come into being. Retrieved from the landfill, memories extracted, pecked from time. I feel like celebrating. Loteria!!

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The final artwork is 55 x 77″, made from material diverted from landfill, takes up little space and turns our back yard into a gallery. Also weather-proof though not approved for climbing critters!

You can see more of my work here: http://www.dandoesdesign.com

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HYDROLOGY : Art Reflects Change and Resilience in Toronto’s Gay Village

It’s not far from here, in 2016, that Black Lives Matter took a stand on the gay pride march and the participation of City of Toronto police. Within the same distance the body of a murdered young woman, Tess Richey, was discovered in 2017 in the outdoor stairwell of a Church Street building. More recently, the community has been rocked by the murders of men, all targeted by an alleged serial killer who is now in custody. To say the least, the last few years have been challenging and un-nerving for Toronto’s gay village. Toronto artist Dan Nuttall is creating art that reflects on these trying times. “I wanted to use nature to express the complexity of connection and change as well as resilience and optimism”.

 

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Dan Nuttall “Bruised Cloud”, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 40, diptych, available.

 

The art is on display in “The Window”, a storefront art gallery operated by ONE Properties at 558 Church Street, just a few feet from the Church and Wellesley intersection. The art is on display from August 28 – October 2, 2018.

At first glance the three paintings in Nuttall’s show “Hydrology” seem to bear little relation to the complex issues facing this community. Two of the paintings capture clouds (“Thunder Cloud” and “Bruised Cloud”) and the other a stream (“Broad Stream”). On closer inspection however the metaphoric aspects of the works begin to relate more broadly – to personal and community cultural contexts. How is a cloud like a person? In his artist statement Nuttall says this: “Our celestial selves are made of light stuff – tiny things that come together to make us visible, make us feel solid, make us feel separate and distinct. Floating through life, it seems clear sailing. As much as we are able to see from our unique vantage points, we cannot see the small things rushing toward us nor observe their incorporation into our selves. Over time, small things accumulate and condense, are rendered visible and given form. An outburst allows part of the self to detach and return to the ground from whence it came. Turbulence keeps us aloft. Dialogue is a goddess of small exchanges.”

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Dan Nuttall, “Thunder Cloud”, acrylic on canvas, 39 x 47″, available

For Nuttall, incorporating the perspective of Black Lives Matter in the gay pride parade was a necessary way for the queer community to move forward, a way to change, a way to have turbulence keep the political aspects of queer and black culture alive: “I’m a product of the era of AIDS activism and I vividly remember the need for the political acts of groups like ACT UP in New York City. Who can forget “Silence = Death” and the confrontations that precipitated so much awareness?”

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Dan Nuttall, “Broad Stream”, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″ each image, available

The themes of connection, changefulness and resilience are present again in his stream painting which is a quadriptych – the stream has been separated across four separate canvases – and requires the viewer to stitch together the stream in their mind, which Nuttall refers to as “an ecological act”. Again, Nuttall is again echoing the themes found in the cloud paintings but also pointing to something else – seeing nature as a source of peace, of healing and inspiration. “Nature is where we can seek healing and peace and for many it is a source of the mystical. For the queer community the last few years have meant challenging ourselves, re-embracing activism and the political, and dealing with new threats”.

Writing about his “stream” series of paintings, Nuttall states: “The emanations found in the paintings of artists like Emily Carr and Charles Burchfield used calligraphic brushstrokes to symbolize the unseen or unknown. Light, sound and the presence of a greater power float within their scenes of nature. In these paintings of streams the emanations, as crescent-shaped blades of white, draw our attention to nature, to the “in-between” of nature, and then beyond to the unknown and unseen. Life, as subatomic, both light particle and wave, illustrating the engine, the power, the mystery that drives it all.” In this moment, at this time, located at the crossroads of the queer village, these paintings both speak and listen.

You can find more of this artist’s work at: www.dandoesdesign.com

You can read about The Window gallery here: http://thewindow558.com/

Dan Nuttall may be reached at: dandoesdesign@hotmail.com

Landscapes : Reading and Memory

I have recently finished reading Elena Ferrante’s “Neapolitan Quartet” – which I thought was brilliant. As I progressed through the four novel set, which makes for a great summer read, I continually felt that I was experiencing the streets, the open windows, the smells of food, days at the beach, cramped apartments, gatherings and other interactions between the characters. Taking a step back I was intrigued at how something as simple as “text” – strings of symbols, concatenated or spaced – could conjure a fully fleshed out albeit imaginary world. The act of reading Ferrante created a flow; text became images, a fabric of sorts was sewn and stretched across my imagination.  I was delighted to find out that the Latin for “fabric” is textum. Texts can create paintings.

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Dan Nuttall, “Shore Lines”, acrylic on wood panel, 4 x 8 feet
self/other/sensing/space/memory/iteration/zoo

The opposite, of course, can occur. We can look at a painting or work of art and “read” it, creating a “text” of sorts. Symbols, signs, colour, forms and other stimuli create associations and messages that reach out to confront our gaze. Sometimes the story is robust and coherent and other times it is a rough assemblage of ideas, sometimes more like sentences, often just a few words or a notion. Sometimes art presents us with a blank page and it remains unwritten, unread.

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Dan Nuttall, “Broad Stream” (quadriptych), acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20″ each
stream/emanation/Carr/Burchfield/light/ecology/

 

The National Gallery in London breaks down the process of reading paintings as follows:

“Reading a painting is similar to reading a book:

  • The reader decodes symbols to establish meaning
  • The reader uses inference and deduction (e.g. body language) to deepen understanding
  • A reader’s previous knowledge and experience affects their personal response”

Memory of course plays a role, intimately tied to experience, and our reading of a painting’s text ends up being diagnostic – speaking about who we are, what some of our experiences have been, what our “world views” may be.

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Dan Nuttall, “Siwash”, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 48″
Siwash/aboriginal/Vancouver/erosion/lineage/family

My first solo show at Lee Contemporary Art, in Orillia, this summer, is a retrospective of sorts, a chance to look back in time and allow viewers to read multiple texts at the same time. Or, in other words, to glance at a group of paintings or texts and ask : Is there an overarching or meta-narrative? What are the common themes?

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Dan Nuttall, “Cry Me Some Rivers” (diptych), acrylic on wood panel, 24 x 30″ each
rivers/symmetry/face/song/ecological art/ecology

Of course, telling someone abut a book or a painting is often both a dull and corrupting process. And yet people who visit galleries often want to know “What does this picture mean?”, “What was the artist thinking or trying to achieve?”. So, to accompany this exhibition I thought perhaps a balanced approach might work – I would say something minimal about these works – perhaps just words even, and allow the reader and/or viewer to assemble the text. These words are beneath each of the paintings above, and are intended to provide points of reflection, threads form which larger stories may be woven. These paintings, and others, will be included in “Landscapes : Reading and Memory”.

These paintings serve as a gathering of texts. From such gatherings a library of sorts arises, an edifice that is created by both the artist and those that gaze upon art. A place where both can dwell.

Please feel free to comment or to get in touch with me regarding this post. My exhibition information is as follows:

 

Dan Nuttall

LANDSCAPES: READING AND MEMORY

 August 10 – September 2, 2017

 

Lee Contemporary Art

Upper Level, 5 Peter St. S.,

Orillia, ON, L3V 5A8

(705 ) 331-3145

 

Hours: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 10 – 4