HYDROLOGY : Art Reflects Change and Resilience in Toronto’s Gay Village

It’s not far from here, in 2016, that Black Lives Matter took a stand on the gay pride march and the participation of City of Toronto police. Within the same distance the body of a murdered young woman, Tess Richey, was discovered in 2017 in the outdoor stairwell of a Church Street building. More recently, the community has been rocked by the murders of men, all targeted by an alleged serial killer who is now in custody. To say the least, the last few years have been challenging and un-nerving for Toronto’s gay village. Toronto artist Dan Nuttall is creating art that reflects on these trying times. “I wanted to use nature to express the complexity of connection and change as well as resilience and optimism”.

 

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Dan Nuttall “Bruised Cloud”, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 40, diptych, available.

 

The art is on display in “The Window”, a storefront art gallery operated by ONE Properties at 558 Church Street, just a few feet from the Church and Wellesley intersection. The art is on display from August 28 – October 2, 2018.

At first glance the three paintings in Nuttall’s show “Hydrology” seem to bear little relation to the complex issues facing this community. Two of the paintings capture clouds (“Thunder Cloud” and “Bruised Cloud”) and the other a stream (“Broad Stream”). On closer inspection however the metaphoric aspects of the works begin to relate more broadly – to personal and community cultural contexts. How is a cloud like a person? In his artist statement Nuttall says this: “Our celestial selves are made of light stuff – tiny things that come together to make us visible, make us feel solid, make us feel separate and distinct. Floating through life, it seems clear sailing. As much as we are able to see from our unique vantage points, we cannot see the small things rushing toward us nor observe their incorporation into our selves. Over time, small things accumulate and condense, are rendered visible and given form. An outburst allows part of the self to detach and return to the ground from whence it came. Turbulence keeps us aloft. Dialogue is a goddess of small exchanges.”

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Dan Nuttall, “Thunder Cloud”, acrylic on canvas, 39 x 47″, available

For Nuttall, incorporating the perspective of Black Lives Matter in the gay pride parade was a necessary way for the queer community to move forward, a way to change, a way to have turbulence keep the political aspects of queer and black culture alive: “I’m a product of the era of AIDS activism and I vividly remember the need for the political acts of groups like ACT UP in New York City. Who can forget “Silence = Death” and the confrontations that precipitated so much awareness?”

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Dan Nuttall, “Broad Stream”, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″ each image, available

The themes of connection, changefulness and resilience are present again in his stream painting which is a quadriptych – the stream has been separated across four separate canvases – and requires the viewer to stitch together the stream in their mind, which Nuttall refers to as “an ecological act”. Again, Nuttall is again echoing the themes found in the cloud paintings but also pointing to something else – seeing nature as a source of peace, of healing and inspiration. “Nature is where we can seek healing and peace and for many it is a source of the mystical. For the queer community the last few years have meant challenging ourselves, re-embracing activism and the political, and dealing with new threats”.

Writing about his “stream” series of paintings, Nuttall states: “The emanations found in the paintings of artists like Emily Carr and Charles Burchfield used calligraphic brushstrokes to symbolize the unseen or unknown. Light, sound and the presence of a greater power float within their scenes of nature. In these paintings of streams the emanations, as crescent-shaped blades of white, draw our attention to nature, to the “in-between” of nature, and then beyond to the unknown and unseen. Life, as subatomic, both light particle and wave, illustrating the engine, the power, the mystery that drives it all.” In this moment, at this time, located at the crossroads of the queer village, these paintings both speak and listen.

You can find more of this artist’s work at: www.dandoesdesign.com

You can read about The Window gallery here: http://thewindow558.com/

Dan Nuttall may be reached at: dandoesdesign@hotmail.com

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Giving Men Flowers: A Pansy for Jocks

In the wake of current events such as the Harvey Weinstein debacle and the #metoo campaign I catch myself thinking about the progress that needs to be made. And as an artist I wonder – what is the role of art? To ensure the equal representation of women and all “others” as administrators and creators of art but also to provide – to guarantee – a setting free from prejudice, threat and harrassment. And what of artworks themselves – what are they saying?

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.

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Dan Nuttall, “Pansy For Jocks 1”, photography and digital manipulation

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.

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Dan Nuttall, “Pansy For Jocks 2”, photography and digital manipulation

 

In the male sports world I wonder if misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and the failure of men to accept “feminine” attributes contributes to violence against others and shaming of the self. This art asks men to question their relationships with their “self” and the “feminine” in the arena of sport. This art invites men to comment – but they rarely ever do. This art invites men to consider the constraints they offer to their partners, their children, their communities when they see the world as narrowly defined. This art asks men to accept femininity, to revel in it, to champion it all of the petals that make up this flower. This art invites women to send it to men they know and ask them what they think of it.

How would men respond to a world where art invited them to be more open minded? These pansies are comprised of jock strap cups and hockey girdle straps and clips. A pair, in black and white, would look great above your bed or in your living room where guests might comment. Erotic art that honours the continuum, not just the poles. Can anyone have a convincing and comprehensive strength if they cannot accept and appreciate the full spectrum of gender expression, of masculine and feminine, of weak and strong?

A gift of flowers is always appropriate, I offer these pansies to jocks and invite you to offer them too, in any form of your making.

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Dan Nuttall, “Pansy For Jocks 3”, photography and digital manipulation.

I was so very pleased that “Pansy For Jocks 1” was selected by jury to auctioned off on March 30, 2017, in support of the Aids Committee of Toronto. You can read about ACT and the amazing work they do here: http://www.actoronto.org/.

“Pansy for Jocks 3” will be auctioned off on March 22, 2018 for the same amazing ACT-SNAP event! This work was awarded one of 5 prestigious Awards of Merit by the Jury, who reviewed the works anonymously. The prize includes $500 and a ticket to the Gala Auction evening. The jury for 2018 included:

  • Cheryl Powers – Photographic Artist (Chair)
  • Chantal Stepa – Co-Chair
  • Jeannie Baxter – Managing Director, Toronto Image Works
  • Aidan Cowling – Photographic Artist and Head of Communications & Development, Gallery 44
  • Erika DeFreitas – Multidisciplinary Artist
  • Kevin Kelly – Commercial and Art Photographer
  • Patrick Lightheart – Designer and Artist

SNAP! 2018 is a Contemporary Photo Competition. A juried competition for all photographers, there are cash prizes for top entries. Selected images will be included in the SNAP! 2018 silent auction, part of Toronto’s most exciting gala celebrating contemporary art photography. This year’s gala takes place March 22, 2018, at the Bram + Bluma Appel Salon at the Metro Toronto Reference LIbrary, you can read about this venue here: http://salonrentals.torontopubliclibrary.ca/about-the-refe…/

There is a PREVIEW night for the Curatorial Collection of photorgaphs as well as those photorgaphs receivign Awards of Merit. The preview runs March 8, 9, 10, at Robert Birch Gallery in Toronto, more info here: http://birchcontemporary.com/

You can see this year’s winners on the web site for SNAP, here: http://snap-toronto.com/

Please share this post if you have a moment to support this critical agency. ACT provides support services that empower men, women and young people living with HIV to achieve self-determination, informed decision-making, independence, and overall well-being. ACT does this through programs such as counselling, information provision, social support activities and programs that help people with HIV return to work.

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

 

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?