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.

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What Are “The Odds”?

People often want to know how a piece of art comes into being. For me, there are often some very disparate threads that seem to get tangled (not woven), resulting in intersections, real or virtual places where things meet/collide/bind/interface. Here, for example, are some threads:

 

  • Francis Bacon

Bacon’s “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” 1944 has always galvanized me. Notice how the title refers to “a” crucifixion and not “the” crucifixion.  While our attention is directed to the three figures the focus (the crucifixion) is off-stage. You can see this triptych HERE , scroll down to second image.

Note the gaping maw in the panel to the far right. Bacon was intrigued by the mouth, its colours, textures and diseases. He often painted a mouth frozen in a silent scream. Bacon felt the perfect scream could be found in the Odessa Steps scene in the movie “The Battleship Potemkin”  by Eisenstein. I was always intrigued by the fact that Bacon’s mouths were open at almost 90 degrees. I used that hinge point not to articulate a mouth but the entire head.

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Dan Nuttall, The Odds 2 (triptych), acrylic on plywood, 16 x 20″
  •  Miguel Branco

In some of his work, Branco, from Portugal, contemplates “The Silence of Animals”. I just saw some of his work in Paris. The works I saw in Paris, depicted baboons in domestic interiors such as libraries and dining halls. The baboon I recall most clearly was looking to the viewers left and the head was framed in isolation, the gaze offscreen. You can see his work HERE.

  • The Netherlands and Van Gogh

I spent some time at the Van Gogh Museum when I was in The Netherlands a month ago. Van Gogh’s colours seem implausible at moments, and the brush strokes completely identifiable, and yet the whole subsumes you. His biography “Vincent Van Gogh: The Life” is almost traumatizing in effect – his life a continual state of unrest and bitterness, one long, slow descent into mental illness. Reading the biography made Van Gogh newly foreign to me. His life seemed one long scream, or cry for a form of help he couldn’t identify. He too was always looking off-stage, seeking a goal that no one else could see, living a life of black and white, using colour only at the end. I picture a snowstorm of colour falling gently around his stark life while he screams at the sky with only one eye open.

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Dan Nuttall, The Odds 1 (triptych), acrylic on plywood, 16 x 20″

 

  • An open call for an art show

Propeller gallery has recently invited artists to participate in “Through the Looking Glass: In Search for Identity” a juried exhibition presented as part of 2016 Nuit Rose festival in Toronto. You can read more about Propeller HERE, and Nuit Rose HERE. The following is part of Propeller’s call for artists:

“The main theme for Nuit Rose 2016 is NIGHT SHIFT, as such the exhibition at Propeller will explore themes surrounding Alice in Wonderland as a metaphor of shift, transformation and search for identity. Tim Burton recently described Wonderland as a place where “everything is slightly off, even the good people.” Alice is not just trying to figure out Wonderland, but also attempting to determine who she is and what constitutes her identity in a world that actively challenges her perspective and sense of self. She rightly understands that her self perception cannot remain fixed in a world that has drastically different rules from her own. Since Wonderland is a by-product of her own imagination, it becomes clear that it is Alice’s identity and not Wonderland itself that is being called into question. Her quest to understand Wonderland becomes a quest to understand the forces and feelings that comprise her identity.”

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Dan Nuttall, The Odds 3 (triptych), acrylic on plywood, 16 x 20″

What are The Odds?

This triptych uses a confection of colour and form to draw people in. Intentionally strange, initial assumptions related to portraiture begin to falter. The identities of these beings is unclear, and thus the potential to see our selves or others in the work is challenged. At the same time we attempt to build a narrative. There is similarity in form, composition and the direction and intensity of the gaze. These beings appear to be occupying the same place at the same time – however unrecognizable their world is. What are the rules in this strange place? How might entering this strange “other-world” shape our self-identities? Much like the tangled threads in a work of art, as we assemble meaning in this strange new world, do we re-assemble our selves?

The Black and White Ball

If the title of this post was, “A Black and White Ball” you might think: soccer. You’re not too far off the mark, there IS a sports theme here. But as soon as I utter the next two words, you’ll either remember something, or think something is awry:

Truman Capote.

I have loved him ever since “In Cold Blood” and, of course, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. I wish he’d written more. I walked to 70 Willow Street once, not far from where I lived in Brooklyn, to stare at his house, willing his ghost to come to the window.

At the height of his fame he threw a party for Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham. A masquerade ball with the theme of black and white, it was held on November 28th, 1966 – my birthday. I was turning four and definitely NOT invited. Held in the Plaza Hotel in New York City, the party was as famous for its guests as the images that emerged. How often does a single party, serving a single cocktail, enter the American consciousness and remain embedded?

Back to sports.

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In sports, many aspects of “maleness” are underpinned by “femaleness”. Some men acknowledge these underpinnings while others eschew them. I find it hard to ignore femininity in a world of spandex, padding, cups, straps, clips and girdles. In and of themselves these design “elements” are “neutral” – materials, shapes, degrees of rigidity, support, protection and wicking. Historically, these neutral design elements have been sexualized when it comes to men thinking about of women. However, it is anathema to most men to think of them as erotic when applied to other males, especially in the locker room. In the gay world all these suspensory elements are celebrated – exploited as “hyper-male”. Many a well-swung gay fantasy has rotated around the fulcrum of a jock strap.

How is it that we fetishize in both positive and negative ways inert elements attached to human bodies? Here, in this piece, the strange attractor of flower, as pansy, draws the inquisitive bee of attraction in, offers its stigma, styles and ovaries. And releases the bee to rejoin its community.

This pansy is comprised of jock strap cups and hockey girdle straps. A pair, in black and white, would look great above your bed. Erotic art that honours the continuum, not just the poles.

“Pansy For Jocks”, 16 x 16″, will be for sale at “The Black and White Ball” at Propeller Gallery, opening Thursday, February 4, 6:30 – 9:30, all works in black and white, and you should be too! A night of masquerade and sports perhaps? Two alternate versions of the piece on sale are shown here:

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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.