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/

 

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Cloud Cover

 

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Bruised Cloud by Dan Nuttall

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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Thunder Cloud by Dan Nuttall

Much of what traumatizes us becomes intangible. Words evaporate, events no longer present lose their shape, shifting and colliding with new meanings. Memories suspended in the ether condense and precipitate. How can things so light and invisible hurt so much? These pieces are an attempt to come to terms with my vaporous grief – the endless amorphous shifting of things that hurt. I cannot find and keep the shape I once knew. The flux of atmosphere shapes us. What looks like organization and some kind of internal logic is, for the most part, created from the outside. Is it possible for such entities to take action?

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Blue Clouds, acrylic on canvas sheets, 20 x 26″ each, $500 each

 

The metaphor of cloud is powerful, and accessible, expressing the commonplace and the complex. Multi-dimensional in interpretation, we can approach the cloud as technologic (upload, download, cloud computing); ecologic (hydrological cycle, sustenance); anthropogenic (human causation, changing global ecosystems) among others. The apparent simplicity of “cloud” draws viewers in. Colour, stroke and various media swirl and coalesce, capturing a moment, a state, constancy and change in the endless blue sky.

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Downpour (triptych), acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20″ each, $2000  by Dan Nuttall
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Agitated Cloud, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20″ each, $2000  by Dan Nuttall

 

The clouds of our youth are delightful, benign, and the subjects of fantasy. Who hasn’t lain on their back looking up at the sky, imagining sheep, dragons, or other-worldly creatures? What do you see here?

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Little Fluffy Clouds, triptych, 9.5 x 13.25 each, $300 set

Of course, our imaginations can get darker and the ful spectrum of clouds include those that can threaten us with their weight (“Anvil Cloud”) or release the ecological horrors that have previously ascended, such as in “Radioactive Cloud” – a radioactive spectre hanging above an urban scene.

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Anvile Cloud, acrylic on plywood, 13.75 x 17.5, $250
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Radioactive Cloud, acrylic on canvas sheet, 20 x 26″, $500

You will be able to see “Thunder Cloud” at the Quest Gallery 13th Annual Juried Exhibition Show, August 25 – October 21, 2017. Opening Night and awards will be: August 25, 7-9 p.m. You can find our more about the Gallery and its location HERE.

You can see more of my art work HERE.

And, finally, to keep up to date with all my current releases you can follow me on Facebook HERE.