The Dreaming Bear, Ursus oneiros

Painting by Dan Nuttall of Ursus oneiros

For some time now I have been interested in the “level” playing field created through the use of the terms “human-animal” and “non-human animal”. Here, the level playing field is the consistent use of the term animal.

Related to this is another idea, that of  hierarchy in relation to dimensions of sustainability (e.g., political, economic, social, cultural, ecological), specifically the fact that the ecological dimension or “ecology” trumps the economical dimension or “economy”. Example: you can have ecology without economy but you can’t have economy without ecology. Ecology trumps economy. Taken together the above two ideas can be combined as follows: in a finite world with ever shrinking resources all animals will ultimately be subjected to ecological constraints, however those constraints arise.

Painting by Dan Nuttall of Ursus oneiros
Ursus oneiros (Dreaming Bear) by Dan Nuttall, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 48″ SOLD

As an artist and ecologist I see competition for space, the attributes and qualities of space, and the inputs and outputs of space as critical aspects of the global discussion about which animals and what kinds of spaces will survive. Such questions are independent of the debate about whether or not animals should be kept in captivity as, ultimately, ALL animals will face shrinking spaces, lower quality inputs (tainted food, water, air, vegetation), increased competition, and decreased access to mates (habitat fragmentation, forest destruction). The questions of “zoo” are also the questions of “planet”.

Shore Lines by Dan Nuttall
Dan Nuttall, “Shore Lines”, acrylic on wood panel, 4 x 8′

Which leads me to displaced animals in compressed life history volumes such as zoo exhibits. In a previous post on this blog, titled “The Mind Is A Zoo“, which addressed the painting shown above, I stated that 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?

In other words, can a bear dream of a forest if it has never seen one? If the dreams can only be comprised of things the bear has seen and experienced in its own lifetime does that mean the bear dreams only of the exhibit space and anything it may see from it? Does containment matter if one is born into it? Or, is it possible that the collective unconscious of the bear includes the hard wired dream of a leaping salmon and outstretched paw? And if the bears disappear who will keep this dream? Where can it be stored? And if the dream disappears can it ever be dreamed again?

Non-human animal sensing, experience and memory are components of non-human animal culture. In ecological terms this culture has four cornerstone requirements: food, water, hiding cover and mates. Even if these requirements are being met in what seems to be large unrestricted spaces or conservation areas the lack of any one of them or a reduction in the quality of any one of them can impoverish non-human animal culture and lead to population decreases and extinction. In this sense what we think of as “habitat” becomes the cage. In other words – thinking that non-human animals are “out there” in the “wild” and are “safe” is really just an illusion.

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Dan Nuttall, “Habitat Is The Cage”, acrylic on wood, 30 x 40″

Links to other posts in this blog on the subject of ecological art, non-human animals, otherness, animal sensing and animals and space HERE and HERE and HERE.

The painting above “Habitat Is The Cage” will be shown at Gallery 1313 in Toronto June 21-July 1, 2018, as part of the “Eco-Art 2018” exhibition curated by Phil Anderson. Like all of the other paintings in this post the lineworks or line patterns you see have been taken from abandoned polar bear exhibits at the Stanely Park Zoo in Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

Below, from the same series, but not focussing on bears but the Family Canidae, is “Future Ghost (Canidae)” which addresses domestication as both a form of erasure and conservation.

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Future Ghost (Canidae), acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16″

More of my art work can be seen HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Artist Project 2016

I am very pleased to be exhibiting my work at the juried art show:

THE ARTIST PROJECT

February 18-21
Better Living Centre, Exhibition Place, Toronto
Booth #105

Please feel free to share this post with anyone you know that likes art and might be intrigued spending a few hours with 250 of the finest!

Here is a brief video highlighting a few of the works I will be showing…

 

 

More of my work may be seen HERE on my web site: http://www.dandoesdesign.com

 

Naming, Freedom and Responsibility in Art

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.