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.

photography skeletons art Dan Nuttall
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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The Art of a Coney Island State of Mind

As part of my work in NYC as a landscape architect I had to spend considerable time in Coney Island, working on a project that never came to fruition. Knowing some of the history of the place and experiencing it as part of my work has never left me (neither has Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem For A Dream” but I digress…). Today I got up early and rode the Q train to the Coney Island-Stillwell Station and walked via the beach back to the Brighton Beach Station.

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Coney Island Boardwalk, 2016

Some lovely sights met my eyes – a woman of perhaps 60, speaking Russian, clad in her swimsuit, who unflinchingly walked into the water (it’s COLD) and began her swimming workout; the men unabashed in their brightly coloured speedos; my real and imagined memories of the carny atmosphere. Was there really a midget village? Diving horses? A freak show?

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300 Midgets* by Dan Nuttall

As part of preparing for more formal (paid) design work I often sketch to “loosen up” my mind (sigh, unpaid work). Once achieved, my “Coney Island state of mind” loosed a torrent of work from freakish to childish, inane to historically accurate. Below: Coney island 1, 2, 3 and 4. And no, I can’t explain them.

Though much debated, the version of “how Coney Island got its name” that I always cling to, is the one that suggests that it is derived from the Dutch words “Konijn Eiland” meaning “Rabbit island”, after the rabbits that populated the area.

My Coney Island state of mind led to some quite light-hearted sketches, below, which depict “Alba” (a rabbit modified to glow in the dark, intended to reference a contemporary “freak”) as a new immigrant (not yet landed on the shore) and with reference to both the Dutch via the waterside statue “The Little Mermaid” found in Copenhagen, Denmark and my own country, Canada, which has a “version” called “Girl in a Wetsuit” by Elek Imredy. That same week I also sketched some diving horses.

Below: (L) Alba, Coney Island, 1 and (R) Alba, Coney Island 2.

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Diving Horse by Dan Nuttall

Such “simple” things, these sketches,  laden with memory and meaning, the real and unreal, the kind and the cruel.

*Though the term “midgets” is inappropriate in our current society it was an uncontested term during the time of Coney Island’s heyday – more info HERE.