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”.

 

dandoesdesign-bruised-cloud-1-dyptic(web)
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.”

dandoesdesign-big-cloud-(web)
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?”

dan-nuttall-art-painting-broad-stream-nature-landscape-quadriptych-web
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

Advertisements

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.

Van-Gogh-Irises-1890
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.

dan-nuttall-art-the-stream-Orillia-OMAH-web2
“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.

The Mind Is A Zoo

Shore Lines by Dan Nuttall
Dan Nuttall, SHORE LINES, acrylic on wood panel,  4 x 8′, $5000 CAD

The landscape in this painting was created through the reconfiguration of an abandoned bear exhibit found in a zoo. Originally opened in 1962 the bear exhibit expresses the era’s design thinking – nature simplified, abstracted into modern geometries that keep the animal contained and on view while accommodating the display of some behavior patterns. If the exhibit’s role in animal containment can be set aside the bear exhibit is actually quite a beautiful assemblage of shapes and spaces, a giant concrete sculpture squatting in a bowl, a sunken hollowed-out Guggenheim. The composition has clean lines and hard edges with nature abstracted as tunnel, bridge, pond, cliff face, edge, promontory and plain. The eye can discern different paths for movement and the minimal slopes that accommodate both the need for maintenance and animal safety.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 1″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

Mimesis is defined as imitation. Mimicry, for example is a form of mimesis in which, over evolutionary time frames, one group of organisms evolves to share the characteristics of another group – often as a form of conferred protection. The role of mimesis extends to the act of painting itself – artists try to imitate things. To what end the serialized imitations of nature found in art?

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 2″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

Initially, the bear occupied an in situ habitat which was re-imagined as an ex situ zoo exhibit. Using the ex situ exhibit as a starting point the painting reorganizes the exhibits design language and, this time, imagines a novel “wild space”, transforming the exhibit into another habitat, a new wild. This new wild, metaphorically speaking, “returns” both the bear and the viewer to the wild. Further iterations are possible. In the painting the repetition of lines and shapes creates repeated spaces. The repetition allows the eye to make comparisons and to begin to sense pattern and discrepancy – akin to an animal surveying its surroundings. The repetition of form, with its genesis in nature should seem familiar to us – the observer is a sensing animal after all – and introduces a kind of déjà vu – a recollected story told through the repeated use of known words or phrases. What we know, as human animals, is coming back to us, inverted and flipped, playing with our perception and yet familiar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 3″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

The oneiric state of the painting provides an overarching serenity linking both the familiar and the strange. One wonders what animals dream when they are born in captivity and exposed solely to a single environment. Is there still something deep and rudimentary that can arise from a genetic or shared consciousness? Some archetypical memory? As one gazes, the familiarity of lines and compositions is upended by the congruency of the synthetic whole and the desire to make sense of it. The water in the lower right hand corner of Shore Lines places the observer in the water, looking at the shore, as if in a boat, possibly adrift. There, at the edge, notions of distance, containment, barriers to movement and isolation come to the fore. Animal movement is naturally limited. Islands, mountain ranges, rivers, oceans. Is this the ultimate conundrum, coming to terms with the kinds of spaces animals will inhabit? How big should they be? Who should control inputs and outputs? Which species get to survive? Is domestication going to be the ultimate destiny for anything we allow to survive? Does it matter whether bars are visible or invisible? Does it matter that our dreams are merely stage sets designed by those who construct and narrate our realities? What thoughts should we be having about the fate of non-human animals? You can dwell on that HERE.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 4″, acrylic on wood panel, 30 x 40”

 

These paintings will be on display at my first solo art exhibition, at Lee Contemporary Art in Orillia, Ojtario, August 10 – September 2, 2017. More about Lee Contemporary Art HERE.

You can see all the paintings in the above show HERE.

And find out more about my larger  body of work here: www.dandoesdesign.com

 

Now You See It… Now You Don’t

Abstraction.

I love the indeterminacy of abstraction and the way the brain is forced to take a flat surface and force depth into some areas of the canvas while bringing other sections toward the viewer. The same area of the canvas can experience both phenomena. Must we always infuse dimensionality? Can we accept “flat”? Is the dimensionality the result of the mind’s action on the painting or the action of the painting on the mind (colour, stroke, contrast)? How does your mind make sense of the following images? What do you see?

Abstract in Cool Blue
Abstract in Cool Blue
After Klee
After Klee
Intersection 1, 2, 3, 4
Intersection 1, 2, 3, 4
Jazz
Jazz