The Perfection of Gray Days

Winter days and monotonous grey skies hardly seem like ideal conditions for anything. Despite these conditions the process of image-making finds some unexpected advantages here. The sun, hidden behind clouds, can offer a diffuse light that changes the texture and nuance of surfaces. Looking up into the sky is easier without harsh light and reveals the world you pass by on brighter days. Under gray skies colour photography tends toward appearing black and white with very subtle hints of colour. Contrast can be high and skeletal forms are revealed. The gray of winter means you can see farther into the landscape in the absence of leaves. For anyone living at high latitudes getting out of doors during the winter is critical to health, so as an artist I try to frame the weather in terms of the opportunities it provides! Wake to a grey day? Get outside with your camera or paintbursh and watchful eye.

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The delights of a cloudy day – the appearance of skeletons.

Over the past few years I have had a chance to work with floor tiles in the Yucatan, Mexico. The experience altered my conceptions regarding pattern, repetition and how a “whole” is created. In the Yucatan the tiles are often laid out in rectangular areas in the middle of the room and surrounded by a border of tiles of a different colour or pattern – creating the appearance of a rug in the center of the room. This exists in contrast to the repeating designs found commonly in wallpapers and fabrics which lead the eye out into space with their infinite possibilities. Under what conditions do “parts” make a whole? How does prior experience inform? And how do the variations in repetition (number, relative position, orientation, colour, extent of array) affect what we see, either in part or as a whole? Engaging with the visual world and seeking patterns and anomalies with the intent of survival is as old as evolution itself.

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Pattern, Francis Bacon, and a critique of the war in Vietnam.

Back to grey skies and looking about.

Looking up not only orients you to a part of the world that may be escaping your purview but also offers an opportunity to isolate phenomena and frame them in novel ways. Of late, I have been capturing only parts of objects. This, because of how I treat these photographs, has trained my eye to dissect, to dis-assemble as I shoot, and to imagine what the possible outcomes might be. This mental re-configuration or “framing” means I am building as I am deconstructing. With practice, the world is fracturing before my very eyes, and I am encouraging its dissolution.

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Enigmatic through dissection, waiting to be re-assembled.

The near black and white partial skeletons are (with thanks to Dr. Frankenstein) re-assembled back in my lab – ahem studio. And as many a scientist, ecologist or keen observer knows, there are some rudimentary forms of symmetry that repeat themselves in our natural world. You’re reading this aticle thanks to bilateral symmetry – one half of your body is, pretty much, identical to the other. For me, capturing the world and juxtaposing it with its reflected self provides some gorgeous narcissistic depth. In a world obsessed with perfection how can these new entities be anything but perfect? Is every form of self-reflection a form of obscuring, of blindness? Is information lost or gained?

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Self/Reflection/Narcissism/Double/Trouble

And intriguing. Once again our desire to comprehend the parts and the whole (and to survive in a increasingly strange world) has us scrutinizing what we’re looking at. Confusing. Surreal. Familiar. Is comprehension always the goal? Can confusion be an endpoint? Strangeness?

And the double, of course, can be doubled again or twice reflected to gaze at its own navel. This imparts something closer to radial symmetry.

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The Floating Tower

And although it was the monotony of gray skies that inspired my initial foray into these explorations it wasn’t long before open blue skies held the same appeal. Below, a visit to Coney Island, New York, and a capture of part of the “Wonder Wheel” ferris wheel results in my image “Wonder” which delights with its butterfly-like whimsy and its uplifting and engaging symmetry. 

So get outside, point and discern, comprehend and gesticulate, couple and twin, mirror and reflect, take apart and re-assemble normal.

You can see more of my work at: www.dandoesdesign.com

You can follow me on Instagram at: @dandoesdesign

And on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/torontoartist/

You can find out more about “Wonder” and its sale at auction here: http://snap-toronto.com/

WONDER by Toronto artist Dan Nuttall will be at auction at SNAP 2019 Toronto in early 2019.

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Outdoor Art : A Papel Picado Inspired by Mexico

 

We have spent considerable time in the Yucatan, Mexico. In that region almost any celebration results in the hanging of strings of “banderas de papel” called “banderitas” or, if referring to the traditional form of this art form, ”papel picado”, meaning “pecked paper”. I’ve always loved this idea of pecking and it brought to mind the many forms of “making” in birds. The pecking refers to the use of small metal chisels or blades that are struck with hammers to excise the open areas of the flags. The flags are piles in stacked layers and a pattern guide is used to ensure consistency across a large number of banderas. Tap, tap, tap, a flower blooms. Tap, tap, tap, a grinning skull takes shape. In our current times the flags are made of plastic.

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During our time in the #Yucatan Peninsula, #Mexico we could often hear the calls of the Ferruginous Pygmy #Owl. I used oil pastels to create this work on paper, celebrating the indominitable spirit of this small bird which is also, reportedly, an aggressive predator.

 

One day I came across a large rolled vinyl sign in the dumpster of a car dealership – about 5 feet in width and 20 feet long. It wasn’t long before I had this coiled languid tongue slung over my shoulder and, as many artists can relate to, I immediately felt both triumphant and apprehensive. One the one hand I had new art materials obtained at a great price. On the other hand I was wondering – where was I going to store it and what was I going to do with it? I had absolutely no idea. I counted on the fact that of the thousands of ideas constantly flowing through my head, one of them would stumble across a large vinyl log one day and fall face first into “art”. The coiled vinyl sign lay dormant, gathering dust for nearly two years.

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Dan Nuttall, #CACTUS MOB, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48″

 

The finishing of our new back yard this summer was a cause for celebration, we did all the design and implementation work ourselves. I thought of a party with small colourful “banderitas” but was daunted by the thought of finding and stringing a series of suspended lines in the back yard. Since art was always going to a part of our back yard, and space in downtown Toronto is always at a premium, I thought that a single large “papel picado” might suffice. It could occupy the far wall, serve as a focal point and lend an air of celebration and diversity to the setting. I would use the back of the vinyl sign as the front face, providing a thin white surface.

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Process: I created a digital drawing, printing it on letter sized paper (42 separate pages), taped them together and taped the completed image to the back of the repurposed vinyl banner.

It took a month to produce the flag including a week of cutting by hand with a small blade. The flow of memories in the form of plants and garden and insects kept my mind alive: zebra long-wing butterflies, cardboard palms, black-eyed susan vines, night blooming cactus, ginger plants, Plumeria. The content is all farmed from memory. Plants you see in the flag are actual species, done without further research, to the best of my memory as are the two owls called Ferruginous Pygmy Owls which we have often heard while in the greener areas of the city. The butterflies, owls and cactus have all been the subject of separate works of art.

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It took about 40 hours to excise all the tiny section within the papel picado (“pecked paper”). 

And so the “bandera de vinilo gigante ”, the “large vinyl flag”, has now come into being. Retrieved from the landfill, memories extracted, pecked from time. I feel like celebrating. Loteria!!

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The final artwork is 55 x 77″, made from material diverted from landfill, takes up little space and turns our back yard into a gallery. Also weather-proof though not approved for climbing critters!

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