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. The art below explores the relationship between ravens and glass. What are the implications of the anthropogenic, material world and non-human animals?

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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. The art below creates a mini-drama to provoke questioning: Why are 3 birds approaching a nest? Why is it empty? What happens next? What do we know about the lives of these “others”? 

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3 Birds Approaching An Empty Nest, acrylic on 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. The painting below uses forms taken from abandoned polar bear exhibit to mimic landscapes. What is a “real” landscape? What is a “fake” landscape? What effects do artificial landscapes and containment have on the psychology and evolution of non-human animals? Are all conservation spaces really just zoos?

 

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Mimesis 3, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36″

 

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. Water is one of the resources that moves between the anthropogenic “bars” that divide landscapes. But if this resource is corrupted it means that the corruption flows along with it. What language is required to help us “read” the value of water? What symbols and signs can we perceive when we comes to understanding or approaching nature? Is perception without action of any value? Does all nature have to become “symbolic” to be “counted”?

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Dan Nuttall, “Symbolic Stream 1”

 

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. The photograph below is an art povera found object moment referencing the recent spate of whales dying from ingested plastic.  The “poverty” here is very real – non-human animals are impoverished by many of our human activities. The “found” aspect is really about the “discarded” – waste is a form of competition.

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Dan Nuttall “Whale Intestine” 2018

 

 

6. Ultimately, all non-human animals will be faced with extinction, captivity or domestication. Here, the organic curve and resplendent colours of a reef are juxtaposed against the rectinilear shadows of urbanity.

 

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Dan Nuttall, 2018, “Coral Reef” diptych, 18 x 24″ each

 

7. When engaged in competition human animals usually choose themselves over non-human animals. In this series I used clouds as a metaphor for the “self”. Our heritage as a species allows us to float above the landscape, in dynamic tension with the hydrological cycle. We shift and change shape taking up evaporating water molecules only to have them condense to be released back to the earth. Can something like a cloud – so light and airy – be bruised?

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Dan Nuttall, “Bruised Cloud”, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 48″

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. Below, the inverted sky, and sea with melting ice, are intersected by a meat bridge where only three of the four legs of a polar bear can be seen. What is this bear “worth”? What is its “value”?

 

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Dan Nuttall, “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. Icebergs, taken from the iconic Canadian “Group of Seven” painter Lawren Harris’s work, exist against a hazy sky while a loon sinks into the depths – escaping but connected.  

 

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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. These dodos are derived from a skeleton seen at the Smithsonion Museum in Washington, D.C., about the same time I discovered I was, in part, of aboriginal ancestry. My family had erased or rendered this aspect of my life extinct. The rift between what we think versus who we really are can obfuscate meaning. Our collective distancing from ecological truths needs to be shrunk.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

Shore Lines by Dan Nuttall
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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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 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

 

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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Competition for the Same Space at the Same Time

Road Kill by Dan Nuttall
Road Kill by Dan Nuttall

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?

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Domesticus by Dan Nuttall

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.

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Crying My Eyes Out by Dan Nuttall

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.

 

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.

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.