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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Streams of Thought : Mystical Emanations in Art

For just a brief moment my body, suspended mid-leap, is doubled, my reflection in the stream’s surface a fleeting portrait of a teenaged boy trapped between the blues of sky and water. I am fleet-footed at this age, able to bound from boulder to boulder, curious about the matted bundles of driftwood, the truncated forest edges, the suspended log pathways, the coursing water both hidden and in plain sight. I feel a part of nature, a creature sensing its way along a watercourse.

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Dan Nuttall, “Fall Stream”, diptych, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20″ each, SOLD

The stream connects me to life – a wren nest wedged where deadfall branches interlace, robust pungent moss pressed under my palms, smoothed stones, crunching sorted gravel and sand. As if a paintbrush has been flicked, a spatter of dark olive streaks dart to where my amphibious scuffing of rocks has dislodged algae. The small green cloud drifts, all pattern, change and sustenance.

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Dan Nuttall, “Snag Stream”, diptych, acryic on canvas board, 16 x 20″ each

Shoulder to shoulder bleached granite sentries create a jumbled causeway of exits and impasses. I am humbled by their smoothness, their completeness, the ease of their weighted, shouldering postures, so separate from the stuff of water and so inseparable from the idea of stream. The light is emanating around me, floating above the gravel beds, glancing back from every riffle, splashing back at the world in radiating rings, mixing with the dappled streambank shade. The world, in flux, hovers between abstract and real.

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Dan Nuttall, “Forest Stream”, quadriptych, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20″ each
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Dan Nuttall, “Urban Stream”, hexaptych, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20″ each

 

Years later, far from any stream, but not so far from the Hudson River, I am standing in the Whitney Museum in New York City looking at the delightful paintings of Charles Burchfield. The show, aptly titled “Heat Waves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield” is mostly watercolours. Many of them have been painted as if elements within the painting are vibrating, and the overall effect of the brushstrokes is one of a charged atmosphere. Here are my “emanations”.

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DETAIL, Charles Burchfield, “Autumnal Fantasy”, watercolour on paper, 1916-44

Charles Burchfield’s emanations captured sound, light and the ephemerality of nature. His watercolour painting “Autumnal Fantasy” (1916-44), seems to be alive with calls of nuthatches, while the pounding light of the sun passes in crescents through the woodland clearing and between the trees. Even the holes in tree trunks seem to emote. The very substance of nature hangs precariously on the page, waiting for entropy and the eye to force their way between the vestiges of substance. Guy Davenport, writing in “Charles Burchfield’s Seasons”, suggests that “The step from Van Gogh to Willem de Kooning is a short one… that Burchfield… took in his own way, into an idiomatic calligraphy of his own devising, a sign language for radiant light, for wind, for insect song, for emanations”. Expressionistic in his treatment of light, Burchfield’s works is often described as mystical and visionary. His paintings leave me with the feeling that he is able to see a nature more alive than nature. Though he has not received as much attention as many other American painters it is worth noting that Burchfield had the distinction of being the first person to receive a one-person exhibition at the newly opened Museum of Modern Art in New York City, in 1930.

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DETAIL, Emily Carr, BC Forest Interior, 1935

 

Similarly, Emily Carr’s emanations are rooted in the mystical. While Burchfield’s emanations were more discrete and identifiable, Carr’s merged in large swooping streams of colour that radiate from nature or course through the air, becoming a vital plasm in which all things are immersed. In “Edge of the Forest” (1935), the central tree seems to be the source of an emanating aura which fills the sky. In “Juice of Life” (1939) and “Blue Sky” (1936) all of nature moves together, a synchronous coalescing flow within the universe. Carr’s exposure to Christianity, particularly her upbringing with Calvinism, her experimentation with theosophy, her later reading of The Sadhu written by B. H. Streeter (about a Christian mystic from Punjab named Sadhu Sunder Singh), ultimately become layered in her approach to painting – an approach that uses radiating or coursing illumination to depict an ecstatic source of enlightenment. In Carr’s representations of nature we find a form of reconciliation, a pronouncement of the world at peace, often with a sense of calm, harmony, or joy – akin to the experience of a soul in union with a higher power.

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

The emanations we perceive on the painted surface have their own language – waves, and crescents bordering on calligraphy, text, letters. What gets transmitted in a symbol? What gets lost? As the meanings behind symbols change how does this affect our interpretatio of what we perceive? Think about the #/number sign and its migration to #/hashtag or the changeful life of the “@” symbol.

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Dan Nuttall, 2018, Symbolic Stream 1, acrylic, 36 x 48″

 

The painting of emanations draws our attention to nature and then beyond nature, to the unknown and unseen. Life, as if subatomic, both light particle and wave, illustrating the engine, the power, the mystery that drives it all.

By dwelling on the ephemerality that Burchfield  so boldly pronounced we are able to inhabit that “soft focus” moment of being dazzled and at peace with nature. However, unlike Carr’s mystical harmony these works present a pulling apart, a disassembly, through the use of a fractured and changeful whole. The viewer must work, engaging the parts and using energy to assemble the whole – an ecological act in itself.

You can find more of my work here: http//:www.dandoesdesign.com/

You can find me on FaceBook here: https://www.facebook.com/torontoartist/

 

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/

 

Streams of Consciousness

Art is a history of the stilled self.

How many times have I stood by a stream, lost in its juicy wetness, lulled by the blue-green sheen, hypnotized by the wash of gravity and flow of endlessly unique frames?

Perhaps Heraclitus was wrong.

Standing here, on a rainy and cold day in March of 2016 at the Metropolitan Museum, I am gazing at a stilled moment from someone else’s life. An artist’s life. A man who looked at irises in a pitcher one day. Well, not really just one day, but the day before he left the asylum at Saint-Rémy. It was 1890. The artist was Vincent Van Gogh.

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Van Gogh, Irises, 1890, courtesy of Metropolitan Museum, NYC

I slip from the bank of my own moment and Walt Whitman (b. 1819-1892) pulls Vincent (b. 1853-1890) and I under:

“ And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.”(1855).

Van Gogh and Whitman. Stilled selves, stalled in art and poems, thinking of others, thinking of us. I wonder if Van Gogh ever read Whitman? Or if Whitman ever saw “Van Gogh’s Irises”? Van Gogh’s lifespan is submerged within Whitman’s. Whitman’s died two years after “Irises” was painted, the same year that Van Gogh died. I doubt if he ever saw them. The river they stepped in, the moments they stilled, is the same river we stand in. We are in dialogue across all these years.

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“Cascade” by Dan Nuttall 2016

And what to make of my own stilled self, in this tiny painting “Cascade”? Why this moment? It was a river that someone sat in front of before they were lost to addiction. I can still see their outline and the coursing abstraction around them. It is a floor tile, a mosaicos, from a lost house in Mexico. It is a whisper from a Group of Canadian painters and their graphic lives.

Art allows us to stand in the same river as earlier artists, to know something of their lives, if stilled for only a moment. Heraclitus was wrong.