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
self/other/sensing/space/memory/iteration/zoo

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
stream/emanation/Carr/Burchfield/light/ecology/

 

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″
Siwash/aboriginal/Vancouver/erosion/lineage/family

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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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?

Nuttall what are you looking at?
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.

dan nuttall art oil pastel painting Gertrude's Nose New York
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!

Dan Nuttall art Prospect park brooklyn new york
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/

 

One Piece of Advice For Artists Seeking Representation

In the fall of 2015 I won the Juror’s Prize at the 14TH annual Orillia Museum of Art & History’s “Carmichael Exhibition”. This national juried show asks painters to re-invent the work of the Group of Seven. No small task, as a Canadian who loves this county’s wild spaces and the work of the Group of Seven, such a task seemed entirely daunting. Winning the Juror’s Prize was a special moment for me.

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Dan Nuttall, “Siwash”, acrylic on wood panel, 35 x 47″

Since then I have come to find a special place in my heart for Orillia, the birthplace of Franklin Carmichael, one of the painters in the Group of Seven. Visiting the Orillia Museum pf Art & History is always a real joy – diverse programming, great reach, first rate curation, you can see what’s happening at OMAH right HERE.

Following the OMAH exhibition I sat back and wondered: “What next?” And what of representation?  One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given regarding finding representation was “Move towards a gallery that is moving toward you”. I interpreted this to mean that someone on the gallery side has to make some kind of foray towards the artist. It also means that the artist has to be completely open, certain that the gallery is making a move toward them, and willing to capitalize on the moment.

Do you have a website, a resume, a prepared biography and appropriately sized images at hand? I don’t consider a piece of art completed until it sits in a folder in my computer. This “piece” of art is the one that is going to march out and meet the world – primarily in the digital realm. I keep the image in an original raw form, another sized and of sufficient resolution for full display on-screen, and then a smaller version for easy dissemination via social media.

I was elated when Lee Contemporary Art(LCA) in Orillia, run by Tanya Cunnington, began with some small conversation, followed by a few emails, and then offered to represent me and my work. I was able to respond to Tanya’s requests for more information as soon as made the request.

Lee Contemporary Art exhibits emerging and mid-career artists and exhibits artwork which is “inclined towards playful, cutting edge, progressive and modern”. Artists represented by LCA include:

Annie Kmyta Cunnington / Kevan Murray / Sarah Irwin / Aiden Alderson / Nancy Jones / Tanya Cunnington / Bewabon Shilling / Travis Shilling / Birdbath Collaboration

LCA and I have spent the last year moving towards each other, as if on a very long comfortable bench, slowly migrating towards each other until we were seated side by side. It’s been a slow and enjoyable process – I have taken the time to get to know the gallery and they have taken the time to get to know me. I admire the work of the other artists and will be humbled to be in their company.

I am pleased to invite you to view my recent work and the work of some stellar Canadian artists at at Lee Contemporary Art HERE.

For those of you who are searching for representation, take heart. Stay motivated, be open, be prepared, look for someone to join you on your bench, listen for the sounds of them moving toward you and strike up a conversation. Good luck!

 

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/

 

Naming, Freedom and Responsibility in Art

 

dan nuttall art west coat (killer whale) diptych layout 1

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.

dan nuttall art west coat (killer whale) diptych layout 1
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.

Dan Nuttall art great currasow bird
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.

Great-Curassow-2-web

 

Capturing Nature

Dan Nuttall, A Bird in the Hand, proposed poster for The Women's Global Call for Climate Justice.
Dan Nuttall, A Bird in the Hand, proposed poster for The Women’s Global Call for Climate Justice.

When you spend a lot of time around something, anything, you pick up its shape, its various curves, its colour in different lights, its scent, its boundaries from different angles. The more you look, the more you know, the more you can intuit. Think of birds for example. When I look at bird art I can tell how familiar the artist truly is with the species in question. I recently picked up some ceramic nuthatches by Lisa Creskey which were for sale at Craft Ontario on Queen Street, in Toronto. Deceptively simple little “lumps” of clay – as coy as nature herself – they resonate in the hand and stir in the heart.  I have a thing about birds in the hand. I get the same feeling when I look at work by Susie Osler. Osler’s “Objects for the Hand and Heart” are winsome, attentive yearnings brimming with life’s energy. Again, an artist so much at attention that her vocabulary allows the creation of new living things, new and resonant forms of nature.

One day, in Mexico, I looked out my window to see two small forms on the ground. One of the forms flew away – rocketing over the decomposing rock walls of my yard – a Ruddy Ground Dove. The other, I picked up and held as it died – the world above the two of us still captured in its moist reflecting eye.

Palm Tree by Marie Finkelstein
Palm Tree by Marie Finkelstein

I painted my feeling for that bird and gave it a gaze that would allow it to ask for an eternity. Later I proposed the painting as poster for The Women’s Global call for Climate Justice – part of a campaign to raise awareness as a lead up to their conference this fall in Paris, France.

The dove that died had been feeding on the ground under a native Yucatan palm tree. I have spent a lot of time around palm trees – planted a few, cut a few down, drank palm wine, gathered palm seeds, and gazed at them in gob-smacked admiration. Looking at the work of Marie Finkelstein, recently on view at Gallery 1313,  I have the same feeling again. She has spent time gazing and knows the movement of a frond, the slight sway of a trunk, how to make the palm as strong as the sky. How to make a tree formidable in concert with a blazing sun and inky shadows. The show closed yesterday, but Marie’s work may be found online and, does what I feel great artists do  – capture life in their hands and raise it like a glass to our lips, to quench the psyche, our eyes and stomachs and hearts. 

Bewilderness: Not So Fast…

Bewilderness floating tree in india ink.
Bewilderness – floating tree in india ink.

It appears that Bewilderness will survive another year. Fieldwork has decided Bewilderness  should stay where and how it is – dissolving and integrating within the pine plantation.

More on Bewilderness HERE.

Bewilderness at Fieldwork

Dan Nuttall bewilderness fieldwork art raven on suitcase

In 2010 I had the pleasure of installing a site specific art installation at fieldwork, located near Perth Ontario. Now, five years later, I am going back to fieldwork to remove Bewilderness. In my art practice I try to use my forms of engagement as opportunities for reflection and to mine process for the coal of wisdom. I wanted to start this blog by looking at the “there and then” of Bewilderness as a way to approach the “here and now” – the deconstruction of an idea…

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The Woods Are Dreary, Dark and Deep…

“…the woods are lovely, dark and deep…” Robert Frost, Stopping in Woods on A Snowy Evening

This is no place to wander. From the outside, looking in, for as far as my eye can see, interlocking branches preclude any kind of upright movement. Safety goggles are a must as every branch presents multiple opportunities for poking one’s eye out. My goal is to understand the site, so there’s only one choice. I drop to my knees and begin my journey. After crawling about for several minutes, I find a small clearing, and stand up. I am in the middle of a white pine plantation. Where the canopy allows, light sifts down to the still and silent floor. An ever-shifting patchwork of sunlit islands floats in the vast sea of shadow. The complexity I usually associate with a forest is absent here. I see only pine trees with thick and bare low-hanging branches that narrow as they ascend. The needles that have fallen from these branches have accumulated in a thick reddish mat on the plantation floor. The trees are all one species, all of the same age, the same form and diameter, and are planted in a grid pattern. Something about the endlessly repeating pattern disappearing into the shade induces a kind of dream state. Off I go again, on my hands and knees, to pop up in spaces where I can. Everything is looking the same. I begin to lose track of direction and my starting point. There is also something peaceful about this place and a gentle amnesia sets in as I thread my way through this house of mirrors. What lurks within this dream? And what has been forgotten in a place like this? Though I cannot see the sky above me, the weather must be shifting. Is that the creaking of branches against each other from some unfelt breeze? The islands of light suddenly disappear – a bottle of ink tipped into water. The plantation is steeped in a murky and somber darkness, the dreary woods of fairytales and fables. More creaking from a different direction. Thank goodness there is nothing alive in here. Or is there? The trees are suddenly looking different. I am without breadcrumbs. I get back on my hands and knees and crawl to the edge of the plantation.

 

More on Bewilderness HERE.

Bewilderness: If You Go Out In the Plantation Today…

raven1…you’re sure of a big surprise. Cause today’s the today I received a call from Susie Osler, a member of the fieldwork Collective, to tell me that sometime during the night my raven installation has been attacked! Is this a political act I wonder? Or the work of a vandal? On the one hand, this could be a good sign. A lot of great art has been attacked over the years: The Mona Lisa; The Pieta in the Vatican; Chris Ofili’s “Holy Virgin Mary” (1996). Susie goes back to the scene of the crime and sends me an image of the disfigured raven, including a close-up showing a small patch of fur stuck in the tar surface of the raven’s back. Dark fur. Black fur. Hmmm… Black Bear? I now have to re-align my theory regarding this act of desecration: clearly the piece has been attacked due to its realism. This could be taken as another good sign. A seal of approval from nature herself? Or perhaps, in staging the unconscious human mind, I have tapped into a greater unconsciousness or id, where primal nature is exerting its forces. The bear has finally subdued the intelligent and mischievous raven that can no longer act as a guide or talisman. On the other hand, maybe the bear just didn’t like my work. I am on my way back to Brooke Valley to repair the damage. Somewhere out there is a bear with tar on its paw.

 

More on Bewilderness HERE.

Bewilderness: Seeing the Light…Getting Death Right

I tend to create work and push it slowly into the darkness. Sometimes it is obliterated. The trick is to have it exist in both lights – accessible to all. Always close to salvation and tragedy.” Louise Bourgeois

flesh tree in apse of forest cathedral space
flesh tree in apse of forest cathedral space

Despite all my preparation, sketches and proposals I am only now just coming to terms with site context and the feasibility of my proposed work (see “Bewilderness” post below). There is much to consider including the logistics of implementing various ideas and the availability and cost of materials. There are other practical matters as well. How much can I lift? How far can I carry? Where is the electrical outlet in the plantation? How difficult will trail making be? How much time with the deer flies, black flies and mosquitoes can I stand? I decide that my first task is to understand where natural clearings occur in the plantation so that I can choose those that will best fit each installation. The natural light that occurs in each space will also affect what I do. I course back and forth through the plantation on my hands and knees, dragging fluorescent flagging tape with me as I go, in order to trace my path. I know that I want to stay away from the edge of the plantation, that I need to spot naturally occurring corridors of movement to reduce the amount of clearing I have to do, and that I need a loop to create a surreal dream sequence, with

Bewilderness - Spine tree
Bewilderness – Spine tree

installations fairly evenly spaced along the path. From some perspectives I can see how the trails of fluorescent tape relate to each other and to the clearings. Some of the clearings are elliptical while others are square and seem cathedral-like. I find a nave and apse in one clearing and one installation clicks into place. As I get a better idea of the plantation overall, I start connecting spaces and thinking about how sequence and progressive realization of installations will build narrative. At the same time I am finding that the use of local materials and resources integrates the rural and adds additional layers of meaning into my work. A number of cedar rails from split rail fences have been piled near the slopes of an abandoned gravel

Suspended flesh tree
Suspended flesh tree

pit; an old galvanized wash bucket sits behind the barn; wire mesh with pigeon feathers and excrement are sits as a soiled tense sheet atop scattered hay in an old animal stall. I begin integrating these found materials into my work. Knowing that I want to introduce trees and flesh into my project I take a series of color samples ranging from a bruised plum to bubble gum pink and tack them to a tree under what I feel could be average lighting conditions (see first blog entry below). By photographing these samples and examining them later I start to develop a color palette that I feel might work. Working with the colors of flesh can be challenging, though I have explored flesh in two-dimensional media before (see “The Meat of the Day”). I also have Louise Bourgeois’s quote, above, in mind. In the open, the colors I am working with look incongruous and bright – a carnival of pinks, red and blue. In the forest they look submerged. I think about how blood looks green/black when something bleeds deep in the ocean. The introduction of death in the installation acts as a harbinger for all of the trees; the absence of skin takes away any possibility of mediation or variable sensing; dismemberment expresses a nostalgia for the whole.

More on Bewilderness HERE.

Bewilderness - floating tree
Bewilderness – floating tree