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.
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”.
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.
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.
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:
One of the characteristics of ecological art, as distinct from environmental art, is the inclusion of a moral imperative.
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.
Offset from the triad of birds sits an empty nest.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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?
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.
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!).
Transporting your art to site and having someone to help you – this is a job for two!
Storing your art on site (if available).
Staffing your booth when you need a break.
Booth security (you’re not allowed to spend the night in your booth!)
Determining how purchases will be processed (think HST/technology/cost).
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?).
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?
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!
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.
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!
Raven and Mirror
Raven and Window
Raven and Bell Jar
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.
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!
As many of you know I am participating in an art show this spring and will be showing my work “Shore Lines” and “Mimesis 1, 2 and 3” which deal with notions of habitat and the ultimate and twinned fate of both human and non-human animals. I must state for the record that I am not per se “anti-zoo” but rather “pro” asserting the type of work that human animals need to do to consider the long term questions about the twinned fate of human and non-human animals – who will get to survive? how much space will be allotted? is domestication the only answer? what losses of culture can be sustained? when the chains become broken how long are the strands and what are their functions?
Coincidentally, the art show I mentioned above has an art competition with the theme “Road Trip”. As an artist and someone interested in non-human animals and issues of space and competition I have decided to approach this topic in terms of seeing the road as something that might “trip” up someone or something – like a non-human animal. In essence I will painting something to do with roadkill. At least that’s the intention now – no paint has been smeared just yet.
Some of you have written to me asking for more background and greater depth about my blog piece and my animal-centric art pieces so:
1. You can read my blog article concerning ways of thinking about space/habitat as a dwindling resource and how the same questions we apply to zoo exhibits may be applied to conservation spaces. More may be found HERE.
2. Coincidentally, I have just been contacted by an organization that I would recommend you check out – called “Wildsight” and more about their work may be found HERE. You can also read about Wildsight on FB HERE.
While my Masters and Doctoral work dealt with the “design of optimal environments for displaced species” and the “sustainable integration of human and non-human animal communities”, Wildsight’s Denise Boehler gets right to the heart of the matter – Ecopsychology and notions of coexistence – completely aligned with my previous academic work AND the art I am doing. As I have often said: “Good design solves multiple challenges simultaneously”. How we design our world can reduce roadkill, conserve habitat, and see art as a vehicle that carries all of us safely down that road.
Please share, like, comment or invite friends to explore both Wildsight and dandoesdesign.
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.
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?
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.
In 2010 I had the pleasure of installing a site specific art installation at fieldwork, located near Perth Ontario. Now, five years later, I am going back to fieldwork to remove Bewilderness. In my art practice I try to use my forms of engagement as opportunities for reflection and to mine process for the coal of wisdom. I wanted to start this blog by looking at the “there and then” of Bewilderness as a way to approach the “here and now” – the deconstruction of an idea…
The Woods Are Dreary, Dark and Deep…
“…the woods are lovely, dark and deep…” Robert Frost, Stopping in Woods on A Snowy Evening
This is no place to wander. From the outside, looking in, for as far as my eye can see, interlocking branches preclude any kind of upright movement. Safety goggles are a must as every branch presents multiple opportunities for poking one’s eye out. My goal is to understand the site, so there’s only one choice. I drop to my knees and begin my journey. After crawling about for several minutes, I find a small clearing, and stand up. I am in the middle of a white pine plantation. Where the canopy allows, light sifts down to the still and silent floor. An ever-shifting patchwork of sunlit islands floats in the vast sea of shadow. The complexity I usually associate with a forest is absent here. I see only pine trees with thick and bare low-hanging branches that narrow as they ascend. The needles that have fallen from these branches have accumulated in a thick reddish mat on the plantation floor. The trees are all one species, all of the same age, the same form and diameter, and are planted in a grid pattern. Something about the endlessly repeating pattern disappearing into the shade induces a kind of dream state. Off I go again, on my hands and knees, to pop up in spaces where I can. Everything is looking the same. I begin to lose track of direction and my starting point. There is also something peaceful about this place and a gentle amnesia sets in as I thread my way through this house of mirrors. What lurks within this dream? And what has been forgotten in a place like this? Though I cannot see the sky above me, the weather must be shifting. Is that the creaking of branches against each other from some unfelt breeze? The islands of light suddenly disappear – a bottle of ink tipped into water. The plantation is steeped in a murky and somber darkness, the dreary woods of fairytales and fables. More creaking from a different direction. Thank goodness there is nothing alive in here. Or is there? The trees are suddenly looking different. I am without breadcrumbs. I get back on my hands and knees and crawl to the edge of the plantation.