What Are “The Odds”?

People often want to know how a piece of art comes into being. For me, there are often some very disparate threads that seem to get tangled (not woven), resulting in intersections, real or virtual places where things meet/collide/bind/interface. Here, for example, are some threads:

 

  • Francis Bacon

Bacon’s “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” 1944 has always galvanized me. Notice how the title refers to “a” crucifixion and not “the” crucifixion.  While our attention is directed to the three figures the focus (the crucifixion) is off-stage. You can see this triptych HERE , scroll down to second image.

Note the gaping maw in the panel to the far right. Bacon was intrigued by the mouth, its colours, textures and diseases. He often painted a mouth frozen in a silent scream. Bacon felt the perfect scream could be found in the Odessa Steps scene in the movie “The Battleship Potemkin”  by Eisenstein. I was always intrigued by the fact that Bacon’s mouths were open at almost 90 degrees. I used that hinge point not to articulate a mouth but the entire head.

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Dan Nuttall, The Odds 2 (triptych), acrylic on plywood, 16 x 20″
  •  Miguel Branco

In some of his work, Branco, from Portugal, contemplates “The Silence of Animals”. I just saw some of his work in Paris. The works I saw in Paris, depicted baboons in domestic interiors such as libraries and dining halls. The baboon I recall most clearly was looking to the viewers left and the head was framed in isolation, the gaze offscreen. You can see his work HERE.

  • The Netherlands and Van Gogh

I spent some time at the Van Gogh Museum when I was in The Netherlands a month ago. Van Gogh’s colours seem implausible at moments, and the brush strokes completely identifiable, and yet the whole subsumes you. His biography “Vincent Van Gogh: The Life” is almost traumatizing in effect – his life a continual state of unrest and bitterness, one long, slow descent into mental illness. Reading the biography made Van Gogh newly foreign to me. His life seemed one long scream, or cry for a form of help he couldn’t identify. He too was always looking off-stage, seeking a goal that no one else could see, living a life of black and white, using colour only at the end. I picture a snowstorm of colour falling gently around his stark life while he screams at the sky with only one eye open.

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Dan Nuttall, The Odds 1 (triptych), acrylic on plywood, 16 x 20″

 

  • An open call for an art show

Propeller gallery has recently invited artists to participate in “Through the Looking Glass: In Search for Identity” a juried exhibition presented as part of 2016 Nuit Rose festival in Toronto. You can read more about Propeller HERE, and Nuit Rose HERE. The following is part of Propeller’s call for artists:

“The main theme for Nuit Rose 2016 is NIGHT SHIFT, as such the exhibition at Propeller will explore themes surrounding Alice in Wonderland as a metaphor of shift, transformation and search for identity. Tim Burton recently described Wonderland as a place where “everything is slightly off, even the good people.” Alice is not just trying to figure out Wonderland, but also attempting to determine who she is and what constitutes her identity in a world that actively challenges her perspective and sense of self. She rightly understands that her self perception cannot remain fixed in a world that has drastically different rules from her own. Since Wonderland is a by-product of her own imagination, it becomes clear that it is Alice’s identity and not Wonderland itself that is being called into question. Her quest to understand Wonderland becomes a quest to understand the forces and feelings that comprise her identity.”

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Dan Nuttall, The Odds 3 (triptych), acrylic on plywood, 16 x 20″

What are The Odds?

This triptych uses a confection of colour and form to draw people in. Intentionally strange, initial assumptions related to portraiture begin to falter. The identities of these beings is unclear, and thus the potential to see our selves or others in the work is challenged. At the same time we attempt to build a narrative. There is similarity in form, composition and the direction and intensity of the gaze. These beings appear to be occupying the same place at the same time – however unrecognizable their world is. What are the rules in this strange place? How might entering this strange “other-world” shape our self-identities? Much like the tangled threads in a work of art, as we assemble meaning in this strange new world, do we re-assemble our selves?

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Streams of Consciousness

Art is a history of the stilled self.

How many times have I stood by a stream, lost in its juicy wetness, lulled by the blue-green sheen, hypnotized by the wash of gravity and flow of endlessly unique frames?

Perhaps Heraclitus was wrong.

Standing here, on a rainy and cold day in March of 2016 at the Metropolitan Museum, I am gazing at a stilled moment from someone else’s life. An artist’s life. A man who looked at irises in a pitcher one day. Well, not really just one day, but the day before he left the asylum at Saint-Rémy. It was 1890. The artist was Vincent Van Gogh.

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Van Gogh, Irises, 1890, courtesy of Metropolitan Museum, NYC

I slip from the bank of my own moment and Walt Whitman (b. 1819-1892) pulls Vincent (b. 1853-1890) and I under:

“ And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.”(1855).

Van Gogh and Whitman. Stilled selves, stalled in art and poems, thinking of others, thinking of us. I wonder if Van Gogh ever read Whitman? Or if Whitman ever saw “Van Gogh’s Irises”? Van Gogh’s lifespan is submerged within Whitman’s. Whitman’s died two years after “Irises” was painted, the same year that Van Gogh died. I doubt if he ever saw them. The river they stepped in, the moments they stilled, is the same river we stand in. We are in dialogue across all these years.

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“Cascade” by Dan Nuttall 2016

And what to make of my own stilled self, in this tiny painting “Cascade”? Why this moment? It was a river that someone sat in front of before they were lost to addiction. I can still see their outline and the coursing abstraction around them. It is a floor tile, a mosaicos, from a lost house in Mexico. It is a whisper from a Group of Canadian painters and their graphic lives.

Art allows us to stand in the same river as earlier artists, to know something of their lives, if stilled for only a moment. Heraclitus was wrong.

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.

 

 

The Mind Is A Zoo

Shore Lines by Dan Nuttall
Dan Nuttall, SHORE LINES, acrylic on wood panel,  4 x 8′, $5000 CAD

The landscape in this painting was created through the reconfiguration of an abandoned bear exhibit found in a zoo. Originally opened in 1962 the bear exhibit expresses the era’s design thinking – nature simplified, abstracted into modern geometries that keep the animal contained and on view while accommodating the display of some behavior patterns. If the exhibit’s role in animal containment can be set aside the bear exhibit is actually quite a beautiful assemblage of shapes and spaces, a giant concrete sculpture squatting in a bowl, a sunken hollowed-out Guggenheim. The composition has clean lines and hard edges with nature abstracted as tunnel, bridge, pond, cliff face, edge, promontory and plain. The eye can discern different paths for movement and the minimal slopes that accommodate both the need for maintenance and animal safety.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 1″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

Mimesis is defined as imitation. Mimicry, for example is a form of mimesis in which, over evolutionary time frames, one group of organisms evolves to share the characteristics of another group – often as a form of conferred protection. The role of mimesis extends to the act of painting itself – artists try to imitate things. To what end the serialized imitations of nature found in art?

 

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

Initially, the bear occupied an in situ habitat which was re-imagined as an ex situ zoo exhibit. Using the ex situ exhibit as a starting point the painting reorganizes the exhibits design language and, this time, imagines a novel “wild space”, transforming the exhibit into another habitat, a new wild. This new wild, metaphorically speaking, “returns” both the bear and the viewer to the wild. Further iterations are possible. In the painting the repetition of lines and shapes creates repeated spaces. The repetition allows the eye to make comparisons and to begin to sense pattern and discrepancy – akin to an animal surveying its surroundings. The repetition of form, with its genesis in nature should seem familiar to us – the observer is a sensing animal after all – and introduces a kind of déjà vu – a recollected story told through the repeated use of known words or phrases. What we know, as human animals, is coming back to us, inverted and flipped, playing with our perception and yet familiar.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 3″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

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? As one gazes, the familiarity of lines and compositions is upended by the congruency of the synthetic whole and the desire to make sense of it. The water in the lower right hand corner of Shore Lines places the observer in the water, looking at the shore, as if in a boat, possibly adrift. There, at the edge, notions of distance, containment, barriers to movement and isolation come to the fore. Animal movement is naturally limited. Islands, mountain ranges, rivers, oceans. Is this the ultimate conundrum, coming to terms with the kinds of spaces animals will inhabit? How big should they be? Who should control inputs and outputs? Which species get to survive? Is domestication going to be the ultimate destiny for anything we allow to survive? Does it matter whether bars are visible or invisible? Does it matter that our dreams are merely stage sets designed by those who construct and narrate our realities? What thoughts should we be having about the fate of non-human animals? You can dwell on that HERE.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 4″, acrylic on wood panel, 30 x 40”

 

These paintings will be on display at my first solo art exhibition, at Lee Contemporary Art in Orillia, Ojtario, August 10 – September 2, 2017. More about Lee Contemporary Art HERE.

You can see all the paintings in the above show HERE.

And find out more about my larger  body of work here: www.dandoesdesign.com

 

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

 

dan nuttall art west coat (killer whale) diptych layout 1

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Artist Project 2016 – My First Time

Toronto has a burgeoning art scene and one of the great joys of this metropolis is attending both indoor and outdoor art shows. You can find a brief overview of some of Toronto’s art shows HERE (keep in mind this an overview of 2015 shows – check back for updates on BlogTO in a few months for 2017). In the mean time you can track whatever shows seem to appeal to you in terms of geography and timing. My personal faves are are: Art Toronto, the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, and The Artist Project 2017 which is occurring February 23-26 at the Better Living Centre at Exhibition Place in Toronto.

Ever wondered what it takes to be a part of a juried art fair in Toronto? Well, last year was my first time ever at The Artist Project and I can tell you – it’s challenging!! What are the variables that an artist (ahem, businessperson) must consider?


 

LIST OF ITEMS TO CONSIDER FOR ART SHOW BOOTH by dandoesdesign

  1. Creating a check list. You’d be surprised at what I am taking on site – a blow dryer (for removing vinyl name lettering at end of show, a cordless drill, business cards, price list, e-mail sign up sheet, material for closing off booth at night, a tooth brush, a small desk, a chair, a step-ladder).
  2. Reading and signing your contract (read carefully, are there any opportunities for refunds if you fall ill or there is some other interruption)? If you became ill could someone take over for you?
  3. Determining how much space you need (10 x 10′, 10 x 15′, 5 x 10′) and whether a corner booth or being part of a row is to your advantage.Last year I was part of a row and I don’t think my booth received any “more” or “less” attention than those around me based solely on booth location.
  4. Paying for space, electrical outlets, lighting, storage, liability insurance, parking pass, technology to process payments, materials for wrapping sold items, name signage, tools and supplies for hanging art, price lists, business cards, promotional materials, booth furniture (you have to sit at some point!).
  5. Transporting your art to site and having someone to help you – this is a job for two!
  6. Storing your art on site (if available).
  7. Staffing your booth when you need a break.
  8. Booth security (you’re not allowed to spend the night in your booth!)
  9. Determining how purchases will be processed (think HST/technology/cost).
  10. Solidifying and promoting your brand – and being consistent across social and traditional media (sign in book? gathering visitor’s business cards? handing out your own?).
  11. Determining which works you will show and how this fits into your overall art career strategy. This is the ultimate challenge. What will sell? Will you fill each wall from floor to ceiling or undertake a more spartan approach? If a curator or gallery owner walks by what might they think?
  12. Your personality. Can you stand for 8 or more hours and smile and be pleasant and entertain questions of all sorts and speak about your  art if requested?

 

If you’re curious about what item 2, above, adds up to, drop by my booth in 2017 and I will be happy to discuss.

You’ll also have to determine who you might like to invite to an Opening Gala if there is one. In my case it was two ardent collectors who have supported my work over the years. If there are additional general admission tickets available you’ll have to decide who else might like to come – again in my case I have an e-mail list of people who have purchases in the past and who promote my work – they get first crack. You’ll also have some free tickets to give away during regular show hours – make sure you line these people up too!

TAP art sequence
Cloud Cover (L), Shore Lines (C) and Siwash (R)

I use my computer to lay out my space in both plan and exploded elevation. In plan I can place my lights, art, front desk and furniture for visitors. I also use this approach to lay out the sequence of images should one/some/any of them sell.

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Abstracts in Cool Blue (L), War Machines (C) and Black Clouds (Vancouver)(R)

In my case I asked two knowledgeable individuals that I trust to “read me the riot act” – what stays, what goes, and what excites them? How do the pieces related to each other? What story can I tell about an “set” that occupies my walls? What role does chronology play? One of these individuals is an art administrator/programmer/consultant and the other is a well known artist/jurist/curator. Both are avid visitors to art happenings and shows. Thanks to both of them for their counsel – it’s hard for artists to look at their work from the outside and I can’t thank you enough!!!

Looking across all your work an overall theme or subset of themes may play an organizing role, as might colour or how linework complements or leads the eye. Content may be irrelevant at a distance. I am also going to have a diversity of price points including some slightly earlier pieces which are smaller and less costly so that I can accommodate all types of collectors. I remember being a student and wanting to support art!

 

 

There’s no denying that blue is the world’s favourite colour and scenes of nature are therapeutic but that’s not stopping me from introducing some bold works that abstract, or address topics like extinction, my recently discovered aboriginal history, animal intelligence and machines of war.dan nuttall extinction is a won war dodos art

If you decide to enter a fair or art show just keep in mind your budget, your long term art goals and your willpower. Keep your web site and social media up to date. You can see my web site HERE and my artist profile for The Artist Project 2016 HERE and a piece donated for fundraising which will be sold HERE.

And lastly, stay the course. Whenever I feel challenged in any moment my last battle cry is” ONWARD!

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Competition for the Same Space at the Same Time

Road Kill by Dan Nuttall
Road Kill by Dan Nuttall

As many of you know I am participating in an art show this spring and will be showing my work “Shore Lines” and “Mimesis 1, 2 and 3” which deal with notions of habitat and the ultimate and twinned fate of both human and non-human animals. I must state for the record that I am not per se “anti-zoo” but rather “pro” asserting the type of work that human animals need to do to consider the long term questions about the twinned fate of human and non-human animals – who will get to survive? how much space will be allotted? is domestication the only answer? what losses of culture can be sustained? when the chains become broken how long are the strands and what are their functions?

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Domesticus by Dan Nuttall

Coincidentally, the art show I mentioned above has an art competition with the theme “Road Trip”. As an artist and someone interested in non-human animals and issues of space and competition I have decided to approach this topic in terms of seeing the road as something that might “trip” up someone or something – like a non-human animal. In essence I will painting something to do with roadkill. At least that’s the intention now – no paint has been smeared just yet.

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Crying My Eyes Out by Dan Nuttall

Some of you have written to me asking for more background and greater depth about my blog piece and my animal-centric art pieces so:

1. You can read my blog article concerning ways of thinking about space/habitat as a dwindling resource and how the same questions we apply to zoo exhibits may be applied to conservation spaces. More may be found HERE.

2. Coincidentally, I have just been contacted by an organization that I would recommend you check out – called “Wildsight” and more about their work may be found HERE. You can also read about Wildsight on FB HERE.

While my Masters and Doctoral work dealt with the “design of optimal environments for displaced species” and the “sustainable integration of human and non-human animal communities”, Wildsight’s Denise Boehler gets right to the heart of the matter – Ecopsychology and notions of coexistence – completely aligned with my previous academic work AND the art I am doing. As I have often said: “Good design solves multiple challenges simultaneously”. How we design our world can reduce roadkill, conserve habitat, and see art as a vehicle that carries all of us safely down that road.

Please share, like, comment or invite friends to explore both Wildsight and dandoesdesign.

 

Shore Lines

Shore Lines acrylic on wood panel 4 x 8'
Shore Lines
acrylic on wood panel
4 x 8′

The shore lines in this painting are derived from a line drawing I made of an abandoned polar bear exhibit located at Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia.

For me this painting is a part of the cycle of imagining nature. Here, the polar bear’s in situ habitat, imagined as ex situ zoo exhibit, is re-imagined as a wild space, symbolically returning the polar bear to the wild.

The painting is informed by the work of Canada’s Group of Seven.