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
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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
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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?

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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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A Beginners Guide: 5 Tips For Collecting Art

1. Get the Big Picture. One of my faves is a short publication by Canadian Art Magazine titled “Collecting Guide” which is concise and easy to read through. You can find the guide HERE.

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2. Educate Yourself. Take a course on the “Art Market” or “Art Collecting” at an art college or university or museum/gallery in the evenings. For example, here in Toronto, you simply can’t go wrong by enrolling in a Hughene Acheson course in Continuing Studies at OCAD. Lively, stimulating and filled with incredible opportunities – guests and meetings with local art world luminaries and private collections – you’ll be thrilled at what you are exposed to. You can read what I have said about OCAD courses HERE.

You can also watch a video or two on “The Value of Art” By Sothebys. This collection of 10 short videos touches on topics such as authenticity, provenance, size and medium offers a robust perpsective from one of the world’s leading auction houses. You can find these videos HERE.

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What might you learn?  That “good” art holds up a mirror to society and our times?

3. Think About Your Space and Budget. Best to do this before you end up in a gallery or at an art fair. What are the advantages to thinking about “Art As Area”? You can find out HERE. Have a tape measure and a blank wall handy!

 

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“Art As Area: What’s It Worth?” by Dan Nuttall

4. Think Broadly About the Benefits of Art. I love the notion that looking for art is adaptive in an evolutionary sense – we’re essentially hunting and gathering! You can read about that, and chat about it at dinner parties later, HERE.

Keep in mind that art can also be therapeutic. You can read about the dangers of blank walls HERE.

How broad are the benefits of art? Check out this short article on how blue art can help cool, HERE.

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“Hunting And Gathering: How Art Fairs Help You Evolve” by Dan Nuttall

5. Read About Art While Being Entertained. Books like “Seven Days In The Art World” by Sarah Thornton are wonderful exposure to the broader art art and how it may be contextualized. More HERE.

Equally as entertaining, Toronto based Don Thompson has written a realy stimulaitng book on “The $12 Million Stuffed Shark”, more HERE.

You can read more about the author Dan Nuttall and view his works of art HERE.

Or friend him on Facebook HERE.

Or view his Instagram feed HERE.

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

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 painting of emanations draw 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.

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

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

 

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.

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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!

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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/

 

A Picture Worth a Thousand Pardons?

The exhibition “The Idea of North”, which focuses on the artwork of Group of Seven member Lawren Harris, is currently on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

 

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Works by Lawren Harris, at AGO, summer 2016

Canada’s leading arts magazine, Canadian Art, has criticized the show for its “…erasure of Indigenous perspectives…” and the “…glaring omission of indigenous art”. As someone who has only recently discovered himself to be of indigenous descent, I often catch myself wondering about the parts of our culture and the parts of our “selves” that have been erased or lay dormant. How do we deal with the thing we knew existed but has been erased? How do we integrate new aspects of self that suddenly pop into view, disrupting the calm and composed surface of the self? Who am I now that I know I am someone else?

Acknowledgement is critical.

As I toured the exhibition I pondered additional absences. In most of Harris’s early paintings there are very few people, and in later iconic works absolutely no people. So too with animals – a few horses in earlier work, none in later iconic works. How can these paintings stand for “nature”? For “the North”? For a vision of a multi-cultural country? On the other hand: do all paintings have to include all things in order to represent an idea? Can the study of a single facet of a diamond play a role in understanding the diamond as a whole?

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Partial view of a painting, a country, an idea, without people or animals.

 

I have always had a quote running around in my brain which I cannot attribute to anyone and can only paraphrase at the moment: “Without animals there is no forest”. Some things, by definition, have to “include” in order to “be”.

My painting below was created in response to the exhibition “The Idea of North”, currently showing at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

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Dan Nuttall, Diving Loon (Gavia immer), acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16″

 

You can read about the exhibition, which focuses on the work of Group of Seven member Lawren Harris, here: http://www.ago.net/the-idea-of-north-the-paintings-of-lawren-harris

You can read the Canadian Art review of the above show here: http://canadianart.ca/reviews/lawren-harris-ago/

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

The Way of the White Squirrel

Some recent “requests for submissions” for art have come from institutions delivering services in health care and mental health care. One of the institutions, providing mental health care services, comprises a rather large campus that includes multiple buildings, walkways, green spaces and roads. The roads have various names, one of them being “White Squirrel Way”.

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This is in reference to a white squirrel that has been seen on the grounds. As an artist my first impulse in responding to the request for submissions was to honour this unique rodent, to exaggerate, to render magnificent the animal’s stark difference. Thus my thoughts run to a large realistic glowing plastic squirrel sculpture. Twelve feet tall. Holding a nut. Offering contrast during the fall and summer. Glowing at night. Disappearing during wintry Canadian days. Other associations jump-started in my brain. White rabbits. What it means to be different. Pink elephants. Hiding difference. Godzilla. Celebrating difference. Animals as representation or reflections of the self. Stimuli that precipitate mental health crises.

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Dan Nuttall, The White Squirrel, 2016

 

As a landscape architect who has been involved in the design of therapeutic landscapes it has been made clear to me that design in such facilities must be “evidence based design” meaning that the design must be based upon research that demonstrate positive health outcomes in relation to environmental variables (e.g., faster healing times; reduced time in facility). Nature, as positive distraction seems like a no brainer in terms of providing mental health benefits. The canopy of trees, the colourful flowers, the breeze tousling grassy expanses. And what of art in the landscape? Art placed in a patient’s healing environment (sculpture, two-dimensional art), has to be “unambiguously positive” so as not to negatively affect people.

 

 

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Dan Nuttall, Zebra Longwings and Coral Bush, Mexico

This means that some form of representation of nature (e.g., a waterfall or lake in a landscape) is not likely to cause problems. A three-dimensional depiction of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, or a towering steel abstraction of the creature from “Aliens” – not such a good choice. The ambiguity of abstract art, has been suggested to be a problem, more specifically “clinically inappropriate”. So this image of a brain populated by squirrels is not appropriate.

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Dan Nuttall, Going Squirrelly, 2016

For more info on abstract art and its negative effects upon people dealing with health and mental health issues see: http://henrydomke.com/blog/2009/05/11/is-abstract-art-always-wrong/).

So, nature is preferred over abstract art. In addition, harmless animals are deemed okay, but not cartoon-like images (see http://henrydomke.com/blog/2009/05/11/art-in-healthca-3/). Overall, artwork judged to be “emotionally inappropriate” is generally ambiguous, surreal or open to multiple interpretations. This “landscape” piece, hovering between abstraction and realism is currently on display at Bridgepoint Health, courtey of the Artist’s Network. More on this piece HERE.

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Dan Nuttall, Mimesis 2, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36″ 

The logic applies to sculpture as well. Most of the artwork studied in research is two-dimensional art hung on facility walls. The research also tends to dwell on viewer preference, and is not concretely linked to specific indicators of health improvement. And what of my proposed giant glowing white squirrel for a mental health facility? Harmless nature or fearsome scaled-up rodent? Does the scaling up contribute to its cartoonish quality and make interpretation ambiguous? Are changes in scale “abstraction”?   What about a landscape with 30 life-sized glowing squirrels in an array on a lawn? You can read about some of my design work dealing with issues of scale HERE on page 17.

 

What about one single life-sized brass sculpture of a squirrel? What about the living squirrels that inhabit the same space as facility users?

More info on therapeutic landscapes here: http://www.healinglandscapes.org/

Artful contemplations on squirrels and mental health HERE.

More art HERE.

Art and Humour: “A Duck And A Hunter Walk Into A Clearing…”

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Dan Nuttall
A DUCK AND A HUNTER WALK INTO A CLEARING…
acrylic on archival paper, diptych
22 x 30″ each

I love a sense of humour. In this piece I didn’t necessarily want to tell a joke. But start one? That sounded like a good idea.

Hunting stories are often full of woodsy humour, adventure and friendship. They are also often about animals. So I decided that a hunting theme might be interesting – a very visual way to play out a well known joke format.

Shortest. Post. Ever.

A Real Park for Moss Park?

I’m the kind of person who walks by a derelict site, or a site with a “proposed development” sign and automatically designs a park. Instead of seeing bricks, mortar and glass I see plants and paths, people and dogs, birds and flowers. All that new development along Toronto’s waterfront? In my mind it could have been an enormous public park. Would situating a long row of condominiums one block from the water have been much of a sacrifice when one considers the number of people sharing green space along the edge of one of the world’s largest bodies of fresh water? Lakeside pedestrian paths which offer no real access to the water or meaningful ecological space are not enough.
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Toronto has fewer parks than London, Berlin or Ottawa.
I live near Moss Park in downtown Toronto and for years my mind has been creating a park there too. Over time, the park has expanded to gather more land, to allow light to enter the City, to create visual relief, to provide a place to gather, celebrate and recreate. All within walking distance from Eaton Centre.
If we don’t design them now, they won’t ever exist. In the graphics below I’m using Alameda Park in Mexico City – another busy city that is managing to refurbish parks and expand rather than contract green space – to illustrate what an 11 ha park can look like. Take a look.
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And here’s a little more of Alameda Park:
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In these images you get a sense of the possible scale of a new Moss Park. You get a feel for the vegetation, the diverse activities, the balance of hard and soft surfaces, the intrusion of light and nature. You can feel the respite from the city.
A Real Park for Moss Park 2016-5
So come on Toronto, let’s be leaders – and see development that faces rather than replaces green space. Central Park anyone?
What are the trade-offs? In my opinion the argument is for a balanced approach, balancing:
1. intense redevelopment of Regent Park
2. general intense and large scale redevelopment in the Corktown/Moss Park/Cabbagetown, downtown neighbourhoods
3. the need for more green space,
4. the financial woes of TCHC and their plans to close housing units (more HERE).
A park such as Moss Park could be a real winner.  If you support this idea you can take a moment and send your thoughts to:
  • Jennifer Keesmaat, City Planning, 392-8772, Twitter: @jen_keesmaat
  • Ann-Marie Nasr, Manager Strategic Initiatives, City Planning , 416-392-3078, e-mail: anasr@toronto.ca
  • Pam McConnell, Ward 28, e-mail: councillor_mcconnell@toronto.ca
  • Kristyn Wong-Tam, Ward 27, e-mail: councillor_wongtam@toronto.ca

 

Know anyone else who might be interested? Let them know about this post.

Thank you for helping make Toronto a more livable city and please feel free to use the attached graphics in any way that would support this initiative!

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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