‘We don’t create in a vacuum’ is a sentiment we’ve all heard many time over the years, and a quick review of art history or reflexive look at art in the world today confirms this.
Having uninterrupted time to work on my art has brought me to a place of being able to review my timeline over the past few years and also to look at the work I have been creating in the studio in tandem. When I think about all of the changes over the last year alone (turning 40, saying goodbye to my canine-son Bruno, leaving my steady job, and now navigating being a freelance artist), a new body of work was quite inevitable, and as this new series continues to grow and develop I draw an even deeper personal connection to it.
When heading to the studio with TERRITORY yet to be realized, all I knew was that I really wanted to create work that makes me to step out of my safe and habitual image compositions. Although I enjoy making my ‘usual’ work (most I of which fit under the Spirit Animal series – which I will continue simultaneously), I’ve never been able to stick with just one thing. As I look back at my childhood and all of the moving and changes experienced, I think I can see why the status quo is not my bag, in fact I fight against in almost all areas of life, and it actually makes me thankful for an unusual childhood.
As I work on these drawings uninhibited by schedule, I’ve realized that this is the first time I have ever been able to just let developing thoughts continue to meander and build. I intentionally did not propose any exhibitions for this year because I wanted to see what art would come if I didn’t have a deadline to meet. How deep can a work go if it isn’t on a deadline or meeting a particular criteria?
Motivated by breaking my own status quo, I thought a lot about how we generally want to see wildlife depicted. This is a matter that I have grazed before, and the anti-status quo part of me actually revolts against doing pretty pictures with compositions that are pleasing to others. Even that urge to reject perfect animal portraiture (which I see as metaphors of suburbia and also being a woman: expected to be doing things that everyone can get along about), makes me feel more akin with wild animals surviving in their own ways in a world that follows (masculine) routine.
This is indeed an interesting personal exploration that will continue to flourish in my work, and I think is a key access point for people to identify with and come around to, personally and in regards to respecting all animals… much more on that at a later date.
Compositionally, I have always been attracted to images from trail cams. They aren’t posed, often they’re blurry, and sometimes the animal has identified the camera and other times they haven’t. In a way, a trail cam lets us view wild animals in their natural state and setting, doing things uninhibited by humans. But even that idea is false with trail cams because the cameras are extensions of humans, the trail cams are further evidence of humans invading animal territory. Additionally, the images produced are largely guided by the person who put the camera up, as the location and direction were all of their choosing. I have come across many images where people actually place food in front of the cameras so to attract wildlife to have their pictures taken.
In a way a trail cam is like one-sided collaboration with wildlife in a haphazard carefree way: let’s just see what happens. Again, drawing likeness to life changes and letting go of control… this has mass appeal on a personal level for me. (Very Dharma!)
Although these collaborations include a wide range of species, for now I have decided to focus on the Coyote for TERRITORY. The Coyote is not a sexy predator species life a wolf, and it is not a sweet cat like creature like a fox. It is kinda the underdog on the cultural canid scale of appeal. It is also the animal that we commonly have living in southwestern Canadian communities, one that we feel the impact of the most when our cats disappear.
I read a really interesting article in the local paper recently that was accompanied by an image of a Coyote carrying a cat in its mouth. The article was about questioning why people feel like it is okay to just leave their cats outside all the time, making the point that we wouldn’t do the same with a dog, (assuming of course that you aren’t an asshole dog owner). The person who submitted the photo to the paper made the apt comment that the coyote doesn’t know the difference between a cat and a squirrel, they’re just hungry and grabbed what it could catch - we can’t blame the coyote for doing what comes naturally. It’s not their fault that a person’s cat got eaten, it is the person’s fault for leaving their cat outside in the first place.
Obviously I am totally overjoyed every time someone speaks up and points out how humans are the problem, especially in such a common arena of communication as a local paper as it means more people will likely read it and reflect personally.
Back to TERRITORY, with Coyotes as my main subject I am going to explore two avenues over the next little while.
The first is blurry images: as an artist who tends to get into details this is a challenge to go soft but with materials that I traditionally get very detailed with. Using the materiality of the drafting film, pencil crayon, eraser imprints and soft pastel I will be exploring the Coyote in a blurry state. The ‘blurry’ is about our uncertainty about this species, our lost connection to the natural world, and our fear of wildlife impacting our lives - our own territory. As a side comment I have a couple of neighbors who walk their dogs and carry golf clubs with them in case of a Coyote attack. It’s laughable really, the last thing a Coyote wants is to run up to a giant human! Whatever helps you sleep at night (I think I just discovered my next exhibition title).
The second exploration with this work is about the Coyote as a predator. I have shied away from incorporating this kind of imagery in the past because I don’t want it to re-affirm fears about the wildlife or provide cause ammunition for hunting them down. However, in staying true to my underlying purpose with this body of work, I am not staying in the safe areas with this series. I will be incorporating images of Coyotes with their prey, because just like us they need to eat and this is how they survive on a daily basis.
With this series I am striving to move away from appealing portrayals, and am unveiling the animal in all its natural ways, just as I am trying to unveil how humans are impacting and influencing the natural world.
One final comment for this post: a while ago I read an article about wildlife on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in particular in the Tofino area where tourism is very busy. It was a study on how the wildlife (wolves in particular) are impacted by the sheer number of humans that descend on the area. The study showed that the wildlife are learning the signs of humans on the trails and have learnt how to use the trails in between batches of humans. Think about that for a minute the next time you are out on a trail: the animals are likely watching and waiting for you to pass by so that they can continue on with their day. Trail cam photos are really about those in between moments when the humans have briefly exited the gift shop.
Published Aug 2, 2019