The Dreaming Bear, Ursus oneiros

Painting by Dan Nuttall of Ursus oneiros

For some time now I have been interested in the “level” playing field created through the use of the terms “human-animal” and “non-human animal”. Here, the level playing field is the consistent use of the term animal.

Related to this is another idea, that of  hierarchy in relation to dimensions of sustainability (e.g., political, economic, social, cultural, ecological), specifically the fact that the ecological dimension or “ecology” trumps the economical dimension or “economy”. Example: you can have ecology without economy but you can’t have economy without ecology. Ecology trumps economy. Taken together the above two ideas can be combined as follows: in a finite world with ever shrinking resources all animals will ultimately be subjected to ecological constraints, however those constraints arise.

Painting by Dan Nuttall of Ursus oneiros
Ursus oneiros (Dreaming Bear) by Dan Nuttall, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 48″ SOLD

As an artist and ecologist I see competition for space, the attributes and qualities of space, and the inputs and outputs of space as critical aspects of the global discussion about which animals and what kinds of spaces will survive. Such questions are independent of the debate about whether or not animals should be kept in captivity as, ultimately, ALL animals will face shrinking spaces, lower quality inputs (tainted food, water, air, vegetation), increased competition, and decreased access to mates (habitat fragmentation, forest destruction). The questions of “zoo” are also the questions of “planet”.

Shore Lines by Dan Nuttall
Dan Nuttall, “Shore Lines”, acrylic on wood panel, 4 x 8′

Which leads me to displaced animals in compressed life history volumes such as zoo exhibits. In a previous post on this blog, titled “The Mind Is A Zoo“, which addressed the painting shown above, I stated that 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?

In other words, can a bear dream of a forest if it has never seen one? If the dreams can only be comprised of things the bear has seen and experienced in its own lifetime does that mean the bear dreams only of the exhibit space and anything it may see from it? Does containment matter if one is born into it? Or, is it possible that the collective unconscious of the bear includes the hard wired dream of a leaping salmon and outstretched paw? And if the bears disappear who will keep this dream? Where can it be stored? And if the dream disappears can it ever be dreamed again?

Non-human animal sensing, experience and memory are components of non-human animal culture. In ecological terms this culture has four cornerstone requirements: food, water, hiding cover and mates. Even if these requirements are being met in what seems to be large unrestricted spaces or conservation areas the lack of any one of them or a reduction in the quality of any one of them can impoverish non-human animal culture and lead to population decreases and extinction. In this sense what we think of as “habitat” becomes the cage. In other words – thinking that non-human animals are “out there” in the “wild” and are “safe” is really just an illusion.

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Dan Nuttall, “Habitat Is The Cage”, acrylic on wood, 30 x 40″

Links to other posts in this blog on the subject of ecological art, non-human animals, otherness, animal sensing and animals and space HERE and HERE and HERE.

The painting above “Habitat Is The Cage” will be shown at Gallery 1313 in Toronto June 21-July 1, 2018, as part of the “Eco-Art 2018” exhibition curated by Phil Anderson. Like all of the other paintings in this post the lineworks or line patterns you see have been taken from abandoned polar bear exhibits at the Stanely Park Zoo in Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

Below, from the same series, but not focussing on bears but the Family Canidae, is “Future Ghost (Canidae)” which addresses domestication as both a form of erasure and conservation.

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Future Ghost (Canidae), acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16″

More of my art work can be seen HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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
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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
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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″
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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
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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

 

 

 

 

 

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/

 

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/

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/

Imagine That

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Dan Nuttall, Benthic Creatures, oil pastel on archival paper, 11 x 14″ each

How one ends up at a particular intersection in a piece of work always fascinates me. Have you ever completed a piece, left it for some time, come back and seen something unexpected but recognizable? Or seen a collision of past moments?

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These works, Benthic Creatures were, ostensibly, created as art for children. They’re about 10 years old. They were my imaginings of creatures sitting on the ocean floor (the benthos) in perpetual night, waiting for a sound or a pulse of bioluminescent glow, a constant snow of fine debris from above, silent. I wanted something a bit magical to activate the imagination. I wanted the mind to stretch, to imagine the furthest reaches and to think that life could exist there. They were images for a bed-time story.

And now?

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Today, I see some obvious things like my time in marine biology and my job at The Vancouver Aquarium. But I also see a bit of Francis Bacon in the twisted calcareous coral of one image and the lines in all three that seem to demarcate corners or the intersections of walls and floors. I see that the settings are somehow domestic, that these creatures are surviving against the odds, hidden or isolated in the deep blue. They are both soft and pulsing and hard and sharp.

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I also see the edges of a larger, untold scene – a fourth creature – sensing his way in the dark, hoping that one day someone could imagine him.

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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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:

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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!