Reindeer head, Iceland (after Dürer) 2019…some thoughts

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At an artist talk I did recently, a number of people in the audience asked why I didn’t include my encounter stories with works posted on this website as a didactic. They felt the combination enriched their experience of my paintings.

It’s always tricky for me to navigate sharing materials and narratives from my process in the online public realm. The art world tends to frown upon artists explaining their work, but I’ve thought more about the request as the audience is right: for me, the research and stories of encounter behind my paintings are an integral part of the work.

So as a little treat am sharing some info on one work I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: My recent reindeer painting. I’ve been travelling in a place of snow, and just received an ordered secondhand book that also had a reprint of Albrecht Dürer’s 1504 Stag’s head (Kenneth Clark “Animals and men”). My deer painting is currently showing as part of the 2019 R & M McGivern “Anthropocene” Prize in Maroondah until Feb 2020 amongst a stellar line-up of Australian artists. Last night I saw a live deer on a snow bank by the road late at night, literally in our headlights – a different kind, no horns and soft brown.  Seems to be a shadow animal for me right now…

Included below is a poem I wrote thinking about my painting and the McGivern artist statement.

Enjoy,
E x

Reindeer head, Iceland (After Durer)(2019), oil on linen, 40.2 x 61cm. Photo: Jon Linkins.

 

R and M McGivern prize install. Photo: Andrew Curtis.
R and M McGivern prize install. Photo: Andrew Curtis

——————-

Today
I bought
a secondhand book
that inspired
another artist.

Inside
the same drawing –
a dying stag
by Albrecht Dürer
seen in another book
last summer.

1504 doppelgänger,
a scene
seen in Iceland
in 2011-
so it goes.

We follow
past + present
loving life, nature
nursing broken hearts
the same
across centuries.

Cycles of history.
Press play
we repeat
live die
hunt destroy
over + over
over + out.

Animals in life
(and death)
we pretend
their lives
are
less value
than human

blind to
gossamer threads
binding
all hearts together.

Life brings death.
Death springs life.
Life is art.
Art is witness.

Repeat ad finitum
until
we
disappear.

24/11/19 EL

—————

 

Artist statement:

I travelled to Jökulsárlón in 2011, a glacial lake in southeast Iceland near Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. In the carpark was a 4WD with a trailer – the heads of three reindeer strapped to it by nylon rope. Like most Australian kids, I grew up singing Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and dreaming of snow during our hot, fly-blown Christmas holidays. This was the first time I’d seen a reindeer: Three hunting head trophies, no bodies in sight, soft brown velvet felt scraped away from bloody antlers.

Reindeer are an introduced species in Iceland for hunting, with hooves that destroy the delicate slow-growing moss that covers the volcanic landscape of this island. Declining in numbers around the world, reindeer were reported extinct in the Unites States in 2019. Everywhere, unique species are disappearing in world environments impacted by climate change and human activities – now hallmark signs of the Anthropocene.

After painting my memory this year, I found a book on Albrecht Durer’s animal paintings – discovered my painting was almost identical to his ‘Hirshkopf/Stag’s Head’ (1504) – except his deer was killed by arrow, not bullet. Humans haven’t changed… not yet.

What will life on Earth look like in another ten years?

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Breiðamerkurjökull glacier mouth, Iceland, 2011.