How Do Blank Walls Affect Your Life?

Seen from the sky, the rectangular shape of Central Park in New York City looks like one big nature painting. Central Park functions like a nature painting too. Or, more accurately, both the park and the nature painting borrow from the same body of research. This research has demonstrated, over and over again, that people are restored by experiences of nature – whether real or virtual.

Central park

So here is an invitation. Today when you go home, take a tour with a question in mind: How do the walls that surround me affect me? And if I can’t get to the park, is there any kind of facsimile role for depictions of nature?

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Insert Volatile Porridge Brain Here

The research on this subject is expansive and, quite frankly, breathtaking in its implications. Nature can dampen road rage, nature can boost the spirits, nature can improve attention capacity.

Have a crabby friend? Get them out of doors AND get them art that they can escape into. A 2002 study lead by Andrea Taylor and her team found that people with “greener views”scored higher on tests of concentration, inhibited impulsivity, and ability to delay gratification. Want a more peaceful domestic life? Think green, think scene. Think park visits, think art that depicts nature.

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Gertrude’s Nose, Hudson River Valley, New York by Dan Nuttall

There is likely another rectangular painting-like entity in your life that competes for your attention, the television. Generally, it doesn’t compare, unless you’re looking at scenes of nature and looking at such scenes produces an intermediary result – somewhere between a blank wall and a view out of a window. The medium is the message. Research indicates that when views are NOT of nature the television actually prevents you from engaging in reflection – something the world is sorely in need of these days. Art can fix that! By the way people who have a television in their bedroom have 50% less sex than those that don’t!

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Dan Nuttall, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York City

So, let’s recap! No blank walls. Get Art!

If you can’t get outdoors, Get Art.

If you get art, art that depicts nature is a good decision.

You can find nature art here: http://www.dandoesdesign.com/

And a continual supply of recuperative art images here on my FB page: https://www.facebook.com/torontoartist/

 

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A Picture Worth a Thousand Pardons?

The exhibition “The Idea of North”, which focuses on the artwork of Group of Seven member Lawren Harris, is currently on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

 

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Works by Lawren Harris, at AGO, summer 2016

Canada’s leading arts magazine, Canadian Art, has criticized the show for its “…erasure of Indigenous perspectives…” and the “…glaring omission of indigenous art”. As someone who has only recently discovered himself to be of indigenous descent, I often catch myself wondering about the parts of our culture and the parts of our “selves” that have been erased or lay dormant. How do we deal with the thing we knew existed but has been erased? How do we integrate new aspects of self that suddenly pop into view, disrupting the calm and composed surface of the self? Who am I now that I know I am someone else?

Acknowledgement is critical.

As I toured the exhibition I pondered additional absences. In most of Harris’s early paintings there are very few people, and in later iconic works absolutely no people. So too with animals – a few horses in earlier work, none in later iconic works. How can these paintings stand for “nature”? For “the North”? For a vision of a multi-cultural country? On the other hand: do all paintings have to include all things in order to represent an idea? Can the study of a single facet of a diamond play a role in understanding the diamond as a whole?

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Partial view of a painting, a country, an idea, without people or animals.

 

I have always had a quote running around in my brain which I cannot attribute to anyone and can only paraphrase at the moment: “Without animals there is no forest”. Some things, by definition, have to “include” in order to “be”.

My painting below was created in response to the exhibition “The Idea of North”, currently showing at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

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Dan Nuttall, Diving Loon (Gavia immer), acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16″

 

You can read about the exhibition, which focuses on the work of Group of Seven member Lawren Harris, here: http://www.ago.net/the-idea-of-north-the-paintings-of-lawren-harris

You can read the Canadian Art review of the above show here: http://canadianart.ca/reviews/lawren-harris-ago/

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

Art and Humour: “A Duck And A Hunter Walk Into A Clearing…”

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Dan Nuttall
A DUCK AND A HUNTER WALK INTO A CLEARING…
acrylic on archival paper, diptych
22 x 30″ each

I love a sense of humour. In this piece I didn’t necessarily want to tell a joke. But start one? That sounded like a good idea.

Hunting stories are often full of woodsy humour, adventure and friendship. They are also often about animals. So I decided that a hunting theme might be interesting – a very visual way to play out a well known joke format.

Shortest. Post. Ever.

Competitive Exclusion

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Competitive Exclusion (L)

In ecological theory the principle of “competitive exclusion” states that “two species competing for the same resource cannot coexist at constant population values, if other ecological factors remain constant” (Wikipedia, 2016).

Here on earth we compete against every other living species. Garbage, for example, is a form of competition – an ecologically useless manifestation that consumes, space, resources and time. Ecology’s “garbage” is camouflaged as things human are cultured to “need”.

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Competitive Exclusion (C)

The broader the wash of competition (forms, rates of encounter) the narrower the stream that the rest of life lives in. Outside of direct competition with humans, competition between animals steadily increases within collapsing rivulets.

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Competitive Exclusion (R)

In this painting, “Competitive Exclusion”, two planes of action compete for the eye’s attention. The primary colours create a forest of distraction while nature exists behind it, subdued in the background. The colours bring visions of corner store plastic bread bags and forced gaiety. The choice of primary versus secondary colours integrates culture and hierarchy (oppression). The almost complete absence of complementary colours is also linked to my thinking, of late, about the life and painting style of Vincent Van Gogh, who heightened contrast and visual interest through his use of complementary colours. Focussing on primary colours provided a unique challenge – I tend to want to be unrestricted in my impulses with paint. Perhaps the self-imposed restraint is one of the lessons.

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Competitive Exclusion, triptych, 16 x 20″ each

Ultimately the eye fatigues and chooses the garbage candy of primary colours and nature fades into the background. Those that can find and keep their eye on nature are our salvation.

Dan Nuttall, COMPETITIVE EXCLUSION, acrylic on plywood, triptych, 16 x 20” each

You can find more of my blog articles on ecological art here:

Ecological Art : Three birds approach an empty nest…

Cool Blue Art : A Form of Air Conditioning?

The Mind Is A Zoo

SENSE AND SCALEABILITY

Ten Thoughts You Should Be Having About Non-Human Animals…

More of my larger body of artwork here at: http://www.dandoesdesign.com/

 

Ecological Art : Three birds approach an empty nest…

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One of the characteristics of ecological art, as distinct from environmental art, is the inclusion of a moral imperative.

 

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Three birds approach an empty nest. The composition seems to infer that the three birds will arrive at the same place at the same time, suggesting some kind of intersection. Their coincidental arrival also suggests the possibility of competition.

 

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Offset from the triad of birds sits an empty nest.

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In this work the quadriptych configuration creates its own set of “branches” in the form of spaces between the four scenes. A second reference to “branches” is found in the association between the “actors” – the birds and the nest. The overall composition introduces the viewer to an ecological drama.

What is this ecological drama?

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More at: http://www.dandoesdesign.com/

and: https://www.facebook.com/torontoartist/

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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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SENSE AND SCALEABILITY

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ten Thoughts You Should Be Having About Non-Human Animals…

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1. Human and non-human animals live in a finite world. Whether the oceans the sky or a landmass, there is only so much space. The human animal is an effective competitor and has a continually expanding population. As the human animal population expands it collapses the volumes within which non-human animals live. This displaces non-human animals. As such, all non-human animals live in continually shrinking spaces.

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Raven and Mirror (1 of 4), acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″ (SOLD)

 

2. All spaces occupied by non-human animals are designed (affected) by humans. The spaces occupied by non-human animals have a variety of names: zoo exhibit, conservation area, protected area, island. These spaces have “inputs” and “outputs”. Regardless of name or designation zoo exhibits and conservation areas are the same – designed and shrinking spaces, with controlled quantity and quality of inputs and outputs, and a finite number of non-human animals that can be supported.

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Three Birds Approaching An Empty Nest, acrylic on archival paper, 11 x 15″ each

 

3. Animals can thus occupy displaced ecologies or in situ ecologies. In situ ecologies, for the time being, require less intervention from human animals to maintain. A green roof, a fish tank, a zoo exhibit are all displaced ecologies. The care and maintenance of displaced ecologies require more resources than in situ (connected) ecologies.

 

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Mimesis 3, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36″ (forms taken from abandoned zoo exhibits…)

 

4. Human animals control the quantity and quality of inputs and outputs for non-human animal habitats. In a sense all animal spaces have “bars” that regulate – some things are kept out and some things are allowed through.

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Competitive Exclusion (triptych), acrylic on plywood panel, 14 x 18″

 

5. If the quality of input is less than optimal for a given non-human animal species this is a form of “competition”. Pollution is a form of competition. Waste is a form of competition. Noise is a form of competition.

 

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Bird Moments (Flicker), 16 x 20, oil pastel on archival paper (SOLD)

 

6. Ultimately, all non-human animals will be faced with extinction, captivity or domestication.

 

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Benthic Creatures (triptych), oil pastel on archival paper, 10 x 14″ each

 

7. When engaged in competition human animals usually choose themselves over non-human animals.

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Cry Me Some Rivers (diptych), acrylic on wood panel, 24 x 30″ each

 

8. We are all animals and subject to the laws of ecology. The world can survive without economy but it cannot survive without ecology. Ecology trumps economy.

 

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Habitat Is The Cage, acrylic on wood panel, 30 x 40″

 

9. Given the above the issues relevant to zoos and “captivity” are the same for “the wild” and conservation areas. Human animals need to think more holistically and along longer time frames.

 

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Diving Loon, acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16″

 

10. The number and diversity of non-human animals should be viewed as positive correlate of the probability of human animal survival.

 

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Extinction Is A Won War (Dodos), acrylic on paper, 30 x 40″ each, SOLD

 

You can read more about my thoughts regarding non-human animals, and explore my art in relation to this topic HERE, or my ecological art HERE and HERE.

 

My web site is dandoesdesign.

 

 

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.