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

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.

Dan Nuttall, “Broad Stream” (quadriptych), acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20″ each


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.

Dan Nuttall, “Siwash”, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 48″

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?

Dan Nuttall art painting Cry Me Some Rivers diptych web
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


 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







Cool Blue Art : A Form of Air Conditioning?

As Toronto heads into its first heat wave of the summer we are all thinking of ways to stay cool.


When looking at art, particularly larger scale mostly monochromatic art, viewers often dismiss the simplicity of the work and regard the large expanses of colour as meaningless. Think of the work of Rothko or Newman and the often uttered comment that “I could do that at home”. But what are we missing? When we take the time to look at Rothko’s or Newman’s larger bodies of work, and we consider the fact that colour fields and colour combinations affect us psychologically and physiologically, a more nuanced interpretation of the works can emerge.

dan nuttall bone stream ULweb
Dan Nuttall, BONE STREAM, (1 of 4)

The role of colour is often thought of in psychological terms meaning colour is interpreted symbolically through learning. For example, green is considered lucky for some cultures while in others it signifies royalty . Red signals attention and alarm or excitement. While psychological interpretation varies from culture to culture, actual physiological responses occur and may tend to be more universal in humans – though there is still considerable variability. How do we begin to examine the relationship between colour and physiological response? In physiological terms the eye transmits electrical impulses to the hypothalamus in the brain which in turn governs our hormones and our endocrine system. More specifically, the hypothalamus governs:

  • water regulation
  • sleeping and behavioural patterns
  • sexual and reproductive functions
  • metabolism
  • appetite
  • body temperature



Think about the powerful role that colour plays in non-human animals, particularly in relation to mating rituals and the signalling of reproductive readiness. We humans, animals all of us, are also affected by colour.  Have you ever wondered about the effect that colour might have on your physiology? Can blue really cool?


In California, bubble gum pink is used to calm children at a detention centre. In neonatal wards blue light is used as a treatment for premature babies born with jaundice. Color can change the perceived taste of food. Color affects blood pressure, pulses and respiration rates and brain activity and biorhythms.


Blue is the world’s favourite colour, so a work of art with a preponderance of blue has a better chance of being liked that one of yellow. Green is a close second. The blues and greens of water and vegetation begin to explain some of the popularity of  landscape paintings. Research indicates that when people feel hot they prefer looking at blues and greens. Additional research on the physiology of colour effects indicates that blue helps people heal by soothing them – a greater portion of the energy directed towards day to day activities can be re-directed towards healing when a person is calm. Finally, “Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace and tranquility,” says Zhu, who conducted the research with UBC PhD candidate Ravi Mehta. “The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory. Not surprisingly it is people’s favourite colour.”

It’s a heat wave Toronto – so stay calm while enjoying the benefits of blue!

Need to be cooled by art in Toronto this summer? Go see the Art Gallery of Ontario’s “The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris” which has been curated by Actor/Writer Steve Martin.

More colourful art by dandoesdesign and more cooling blue art by Dan Nuttall in the on-line exhibition “Other Ideas of North” HERE.



Competitive Exclusion

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”.

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.

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.

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


Ten Thoughts You Should Be Having About Non-Human Animals…

More of my larger body of artwork here at:



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.

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.

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:


And the same again, but more consistent with the art I tend to release:


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!