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/

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

dan-nuttall-art-a-duck-and-a-hunter-walk-into-a-clearing...diptych-square-web

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.

Competitive Exclusion

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Competitive Exclusion (L)

In ecological theory the principle of “competitive exclusion” states that “two species competing for the same resource cannot coexist at constant population values, if other ecological factors remain constant” (Wikipedia, 2016).

Here on earth we compete against every other living species. Garbage, for example, is a form of competition – an ecologically useless manifestation that consumes, space, resources and time. Ecology’s “garbage” is camouflaged as things human are cultured to “need”.

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Competitive Exclusion (C)

The broader the wash of competition (forms, rates of encounter) the narrower the stream that the rest of life lives in. Outside of direct competition with humans, competition between animals steadily increases within collapsing rivulets.

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Competitive Exclusion (R)

In this painting, “Competitive Exclusion”, two planes of action compete for the eye’s attention. The primary colours create a forest of distraction while nature exists behind it, subdued in the background. The colours bring visions of corner store plastic bread bags and forced gaiety. The choice of primary versus secondary colours integrates culture and hierarchy (oppression). The almost complete absence of complementary colours is also linked to my thinking, of late, about the life and painting style of Vincent Van Gogh, who heightened contrast and visual interest through his use of complementary colours. Focussing on primary colours provided a unique challenge – I tend to want to be unrestricted in my impulses with paint. Perhaps the self-imposed restraint is one of the lessons.

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Competitive Exclusion, triptych, 16 x 20″ each

Ultimately the eye fatigues and chooses the garbage candy of primary colours and nature fades into the background. Those that can find and keep their eye on nature are our salvation.

Dan Nuttall, COMPETITIVE EXCLUSION, acrylic on plywood, triptych, 16 x 20” each

You can find more of my blog articles on ecological art here:

Ecological Art : Three birds approach an empty nest…

Cool Blue Art : A Form of Air Conditioning?

The Mind Is A Zoo

SENSE AND SCALEABILITY

Ten Thoughts You Should Be Having About Non-Human Animals…

More of my larger body of artwork here at: http://www.dandoesdesign.com/

 

Ecological Art : Three birds approach an empty nest…

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One of the characteristics of ecological art, as distinct from environmental art, is the inclusion of a moral imperative.

 

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Three birds approach an empty nest. The composition seems to infer that the three birds will arrive at the same place at the same time, suggesting some kind of intersection. Their coincidental arrival also suggests the possibility of competition.

 

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Offset from the triad of birds sits an empty nest.

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In this work the quadriptych configuration creates its own set of “branches” in the form of spaces between the four scenes. A second reference to “branches” is found in the association between the “actors” – the birds and the nest. The overall composition introduces the viewer to an ecological drama.

What is this ecological drama?

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More at: http://www.dandoesdesign.com/

and: https://www.facebook.com/torontoartist/

Ten Thoughts You Should Be Having About Non-Human Animals…

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1. Human and non-human animals live in a finite world. Whether the oceans the sky or a landmass, there is only so much space. The human animal is an effective competitor and has a continually expanding population. As the human animal population expands it collapses the volumes within which non-human animals live. This displaces non-human animals. As such, all non-human animals live in continually shrinking spaces.

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Raven and Mirror (1 of 4), acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″ (SOLD)

 

2. All spaces occupied by non-human animals are designed (affected) by humans. The spaces occupied by non-human animals have a variety of names: zoo exhibit, conservation area, protected area, island. These spaces have “inputs” and “outputs”. Regardless of name or designation zoo exhibits and conservation areas are the same – designed and shrinking spaces, with controlled quantity and quality of inputs and outputs, and a finite number of non-human animals that can be supported.

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Three Birds Approaching An Empty Nest, acrylic on archival paper, 11 x 15″ each

 

3. Animals can thus occupy displaced ecologies or in situ ecologies. In situ ecologies, for the time being, require less intervention from human animals to maintain. A green roof, a fish tank, a zoo exhibit are all displaced ecologies. The care and maintenance of displaced ecologies require more resources than in situ (connected) ecologies.

 

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Mimesis 3, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36″ (forms taken from abandoned zoo exhibits…)

 

4. Human animals control the quantity and quality of inputs and outputs for non-human animal habitats. In a sense all animal spaces have “bars” that regulate – some things are kept out and some things are allowed through.

dan nuttall art Competitive Exclusion painting triptych
Competitive Exclusion (triptych), acrylic on plywood panel, 14 x 18″

 

5. If the quality of input is less than optimal for a given non-human animal species this is a form of “competition”. Pollution is a form of competition. Waste is a form of competition. Noise is a form of competition.

 

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Bird Moments (Flicker), 16 x 20, oil pastel on archival paper (SOLD)

 

6. Ultimately, all non-human animals will be faced with extinction, captivity or domestication.

 

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Benthic Creatures (triptych), oil pastel on archival paper, 10 x 14″ each

 

7. When engaged in competition human animals usually choose themselves over non-human animals.

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Cry Me Some Rivers (diptych), acrylic on wood panel, 24 x 30″ each

 

8. We are all animals and subject to the laws of ecology. The world can survive without economy but it cannot survive without ecology. Ecology trumps economy.

 

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Habitat Is The Cage, acrylic on wood panel, 30 x 40″

 

9. Given the above the issues relevant to zoos and “captivity” are the same for “the wild” and conservation areas. Human animals need to think more holistically and along longer time frames.

 

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Diving Loon, acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16″

 

10. The number and diversity of non-human animals should be viewed as positive correlate of the probability of human animal survival.

 

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Extinction Is A Won War (Dodos), acrylic on paper, 30 x 40″ each, SOLD

 

You can read more about my thoughts regarding non-human animals, and explore my art in relation to this topic HERE, or my ecological art HERE and HERE.

 

My web site is dandoesdesign.

 

 

Bewilderness at Fieldwork

Dan Nuttall bewilderness fieldwork art raven on suitcase

In 2010 I had the pleasure of installing a site specific art installation at fieldwork, located near Perth Ontario. Now, five years later, I am going back to fieldwork to remove Bewilderness. In my art practice I try to use my forms of engagement as opportunities for reflection and to mine process for the coal of wisdom. I wanted to start this blog by looking at the “there and then” of Bewilderness as a way to approach the “here and now” – the deconstruction of an idea…

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The Woods Are Dreary, Dark and Deep…

“…the woods are lovely, dark and deep…” Robert Frost, Stopping in Woods on A Snowy Evening

This is no place to wander. From the outside, looking in, for as far as my eye can see, interlocking branches preclude any kind of upright movement. Safety goggles are a must as every branch presents multiple opportunities for poking one’s eye out. My goal is to understand the site, so there’s only one choice. I drop to my knees and begin my journey. After crawling about for several minutes, I find a small clearing, and stand up. I am in the middle of a white pine plantation. Where the canopy allows, light sifts down to the still and silent floor. An ever-shifting patchwork of sunlit islands floats in the vast sea of shadow. The complexity I usually associate with a forest is absent here. I see only pine trees with thick and bare low-hanging branches that narrow as they ascend. The needles that have fallen from these branches have accumulated in a thick reddish mat on the plantation floor. The trees are all one species, all of the same age, the same form and diameter, and are planted in a grid pattern. Something about the endlessly repeating pattern disappearing into the shade induces a kind of dream state. Off I go again, on my hands and knees, to pop up in spaces where I can. Everything is looking the same. I begin to lose track of direction and my starting point. There is also something peaceful about this place and a gentle amnesia sets in as I thread my way through this house of mirrors. What lurks within this dream? And what has been forgotten in a place like this? Though I cannot see the sky above me, the weather must be shifting. Is that the creaking of branches against each other from some unfelt breeze? The islands of light suddenly disappear – a bottle of ink tipped into water. The plantation is steeped in a murky and somber darkness, the dreary woods of fairytales and fables. More creaking from a different direction. Thank goodness there is nothing alive in here. Or is there? The trees are suddenly looking different. I am without breadcrumbs. I get back on my hands and knees and crawl to the edge of the plantation.

 

More on Bewilderness HERE.

Bewilderness: The Fear, The Love – Seeing the Forest and the Trees

  • Dendrophobia: the fear of trees
  • Nyctohylophilia: the love of dark wooded areas
  • Silvaphobia: the fear of cutting trees
  • Xylophilia: the love of wood objects
work by Hengeveld (L) and Perlis (R)
Work by Hengeveld (L) and Perlis (R)

Some of our deepest fears are ecological. As with other fears, humans often deny or resist becoming conscious of their ecological fears because they threaten the “self”. Moving into the darkness to confront our ecological fears may be a step on the path to sustainability. If it is true that our separation from nature is one of the contributors to our current state of un-sustainability then we must devise various and new means of annealing the rift. How do we not just get closer to nature but actually re-stitch human animal culture back into the larger fabric? Is it by considering all living entities as vital and

Art installation in Kingston, Ontario
Art installation Franken Forest in Kingston, Ontario

invaluable partners to work with as we secure our coincidental fates? What living entities are of merit? In our hierarchical world with its arrogant and lethargic attitude to the conferring of rights, how long will it take and how malleable is our capacity to recognize the value and necessity of both the “self” and “others”?. What is our greatest ecological fear? I think our biggest fear is that we’ve gone too far. That we are no longer able to control what we have created – the oil spills, forest fires, biodiversity loss, habitat loss, famine and suffering. The fearful thing we have created – the ecological crisis – is coming out of hiding and is beginning to read its book of revelations.

Birds respond to structure as much as tress sep
Roxy Paine in DC.

Recent work by landscape architects and artists is questioning the future of our planet, and our relationship to nature, using the tree as a focus. Do these works, as a group, suggest a “broadened” acknowledgment of what we might consider as “other”? Or are these works just further examples of our romantic and resourcist views of nature (see above)? Is each and every form of life some kind of barometer corresponding to a deeper ecological value or a meaning that we may not be able to sense or have yet to plumb? Is it appropriate for us to use simulacra to meet needs while displacing “originals” which might provide a broader suite ecological resources? What about

Birch by Dan Nuttall
Birch by Dan Nuttall

the social and cultural impacts of simulacra? Overall, the body of work expresses novel revelations that help diversify perceptions and create new connections within, across and between the political, economic, socio-cultural and ecological strands of our lives. Check out the fear and the love, and see both the trees and the forest, in the following works: • Claude Cormier, Landscape Architect – BLUE TREE, 2004, the surface of a denuded tree festooned with sky-blue Christmas balls, the whole acting as an environmental barometer; LIPSTICK FOREST, 1999-2002 bold use of color and form immerses passers-by in a hand-cast simulated forest in the Winter Garden of the Palais de Congres in Montreal, Quebec. Please see

Tree bark abstraction
Tree bark abstraction

http://www.claudecormier.com • Don Maynard, Artist – FRANKEN FOREST – at the Agnes Etherington Gallery at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, until August 8, 2010. Maynard asks us to examine the utility of simulacra in our lives while focusing, in part, on the tree. Please visit: http://www.don-maynard.com • Roxy Paine, Artist. Recent works such as ERRATIC, 2007, in Prospect Park, CONJOINED, 2007, in Madison Square Park, and MAELSTROM, 2009, on the roof of The Metropolitan Museum of Art – all in New York City – have underscored natural phenomena with “substitutes”, many of which are dendritic and made of stainless steel. Represented

Sketch from Bewilderness at Fieldwork
Sketch from Bewilderness at Fieldwork

by: http://www.jamescohan.com • Robert Hengeveld, Artist – FORGERY ISLAND, 2005 – Like Maynard, Hengeveld fakes us out to get real. Rich brown trees with pink felt linings make a sensuous foray into our consciousness and invite new forms of contact. You can see more work at: http://www.roberthengeveld.com • Juniper Perlis, Artist – Like Paine, Perlis goes hard to underscore things soft. A recent visit to SISTER TREE, 2008, in Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, New York, showed spring-time robins happily engaging with the welded steel and vinyl needled evergreen, underscoring the fact that all creatures can be attracted to simulacra if life history needs are being met. Fake is real if it meets a need. For more information on Perli’s work please visit: http://www.socratessculpturepark.org • Chico McMurtrie/Amorphic Robot Works – A TREE FOR ANABLE BASIN, 2007 – a floating island with a stainless steel tree that can be mobilized and inserted into the shoreline, this site-specific installation references the ongoing dialogue between ecological and industrial dimensions of the New York City waterfront. See: http://www.amorphicrobotworks.org

 

More on Bewilderness HERE.

Bewilderness: If You Go Out In the Plantation Today…

raven1…you’re sure of a big surprise. Cause today’s the today I received a call from Susie Osler, a member of the fieldwork Collective, to tell me that sometime during the night my raven installation has been attacked! Is this a political act I wonder? Or the work of a vandal? On the one hand, this could be a good sign. A lot of great art has been attacked over the years: The Mona Lisa; The Pieta in the Vatican; Chris Ofili’s “Holy Virgin Mary” (1996). Susie goes back to the scene of the crime and sends me an image of the disfigured raven, including a close-up showing a small patch of fur stuck in the tar surface of the raven’s back. Dark fur. Black fur. Hmmm… Black Bear? I now have to re-align my theory regarding this act of desecration: clearly the piece has been attacked due to its realism. This could be taken as another good sign. A seal of approval from nature herself? Or perhaps, in staging the unconscious human mind, I have tapped into a greater unconsciousness or id, where primal nature is exerting its forces. The bear has finally subdued the intelligent and mischievous raven that can no longer act as a guide or talisman. On the other hand, maybe the bear just didn’t like my work. I am on my way back to Brooke Valley to repair the damage. Somewhere out there is a bear with tar on its paw.

 

More on Bewilderness HERE.

Bewilderness: Seeing the Light…Getting Death Right

I tend to create work and push it slowly into the darkness. Sometimes it is obliterated. The trick is to have it exist in both lights – accessible to all. Always close to salvation and tragedy.” Louise Bourgeois

flesh tree in apse of forest cathedral space
flesh tree in apse of forest cathedral space

Despite all my preparation, sketches and proposals I am only now just coming to terms with site context and the feasibility of my proposed work (see “Bewilderness” post below). There is much to consider including the logistics of implementing various ideas and the availability and cost of materials. There are other practical matters as well. How much can I lift? How far can I carry? Where is the electrical outlet in the plantation? How difficult will trail making be? How much time with the deer flies, black flies and mosquitoes can I stand? I decide that my first task is to understand where natural clearings occur in the plantation so that I can choose those that will best fit each installation. The natural light that occurs in each space will also affect what I do. I course back and forth through the plantation on my hands and knees, dragging fluorescent flagging tape with me as I go, in order to trace my path. I know that I want to stay away from the edge of the plantation, that I need to spot naturally occurring corridors of movement to reduce the amount of clearing I have to do, and that I need a loop to create a surreal dream sequence, with

Bewilderness - Spine tree
Bewilderness – Spine tree

installations fairly evenly spaced along the path. From some perspectives I can see how the trails of fluorescent tape relate to each other and to the clearings. Some of the clearings are elliptical while others are square and seem cathedral-like. I find a nave and apse in one clearing and one installation clicks into place. As I get a better idea of the plantation overall, I start connecting spaces and thinking about how sequence and progressive realization of installations will build narrative. At the same time I am finding that the use of local materials and resources integrates the rural and adds additional layers of meaning into my work. A number of cedar rails from split rail fences have been piled near the slopes of an abandoned gravel

Suspended flesh tree
Suspended flesh tree

pit; an old galvanized wash bucket sits behind the barn; wire mesh with pigeon feathers and excrement are sits as a soiled tense sheet atop scattered hay in an old animal stall. I begin integrating these found materials into my work. Knowing that I want to introduce trees and flesh into my project I take a series of color samples ranging from a bruised plum to bubble gum pink and tack them to a tree under what I feel could be average lighting conditions (see first blog entry below). By photographing these samples and examining them later I start to develop a color palette that I feel might work. Working with the colors of flesh can be challenging, though I have explored flesh in two-dimensional media before (see “The Meat of the Day”). I also have Louise Bourgeois’s quote, above, in mind. In the open, the colors I am working with look incongruous and bright – a carnival of pinks, red and blue. In the forest they look submerged. I think about how blood looks green/black when something bleeds deep in the ocean. The introduction of death in the installation acts as a harbinger for all of the trees; the absence of skin takes away any possibility of mediation or variable sensing; dismemberment expresses a nostalgia for the whole.

More on Bewilderness HERE.

Bewilderness - floating tree
Bewilderness – floating tree

Bewilderness: The Woods Are Dreary, Dark and Deep…

pine plantation(427)
Pine Plantation at Fieldwork by Dan Nuttall

“…the woods are lovely, dark and deep…” Robert Frost, Stopping in Woods on A Snowy Evening

This is no place to wander. From the outside, looking in, for as far as my eye can see, interlocking branches preclude any kind of upright movement. Safety goggles are a must as every branch presents multiple opportunities for poking one’s eye out. My goal is to understand the site, so there’s only one choice. I drop to my knees and begin my journey. After crawling about for several minutes, I find a small clearing, and stand up. I am in the middle of a white pine plantation. Where the canopy allows, light sifts down to the still and silent floor. An ever-shifting patchwork of sunlit islands floats in the vast sea of shadow. The complexity I usually associate with a forest is absent here. I see only pine trees with thick and bare low-hanging branches that narrow as they ascend. The needles that have fallen from these branches have accumulated in a thick reddish mat on the plantation floor. The trees are all one species, all of the same age, the same form and diameter, and are planted in a grid pattern. Something about the endlessly repeating pattern disappearing into the shade induces a kind of dream state. Off I go again, on my hands and knees, to pop up in spaces where I can. Everything is looking the same. I begin to lose track of direction and my starting point. There is also something peaceful about this place and a gentle amnesia sets in as I thread my way through this house of mirrors. What lurks within this dream? And what has been forgotten in a place like this? Though I cannot see the sky above me, the weather must be shifting. Is that the creaking of branches against each other from some unfelt breeze? The islands of light suddenly disappear – a bottle of ink tipped into water. The plantation is steeped in a murky and somber darkness, the dreary woods of fairytales and fables. More creaking from a different direction. Thank goodness there is nothing alive in here. Or is there? The trees are suddenly looking different. I am without breadcrumbs. I get back on my hands and knees and crawl to the edge of the plantation.

To learn more about Bewilderness on this Blog you can start at the most recent blog and work your way back in time  HERE.

dan nuttall art bewilderness fieldwork spine tree
Spine Tree by Dan Nuttall