It is at this point that the critique of representation needs also to attend to the social conditions that give representation its power, and the consequences of that power.
— Freadman, 2005: 235-237
I am a ‘nature’ painter. Broadly, I paint pictures about nature as a concept. The idea that nature and culture are not separate entities, but intertwined and infused with one another, is of particular significance to my practice. With this in mind, my work examines the foundations of the natural history museum and its systems of display. It investigates the museum’s relationship to objectivity through other forms of cultural production that also utilize animals, plants and their surroundings. By referencing the history of painting, popular/consumer culture, and using the tools of humour, metaphor and irony, I am attempting to denature the natural history exhibit. In doing so, my goal is to demonstrate how social and cultural assumptions can mold and reshape ‘nature’.
Furthermore, my work surveys the natural history diorama and its relationship to the traditions, conventions and limitations of painting. These exhibits, particularly in their painted backdrops, directly reference the style, lighting, resolve, and pictorial conventions of Western European and early North American painting. My belief is that their use of these conventions illustrates the idea that natural history exhibits are not objective but, culturally and historically specific. It also suggests that painted images have affected our ideas of “what nature looks like” that their aesthetic has become naturalized. In addition, my work considers these museological displays through the notion that surfaces, such as animal hides and painted backdrops, contain meanings that assist in the maintenance and reproduction of the museum’s political and ideological positioning.
Within the museum, the desire to exhibit the varied products of field research, in a thorough and objective style, has often resulted in unpredictable and eccentric forms of visual display. By appropriating and visually simulating these tactics, I am attempting to use natural history for its creative potential and as a plateau to animal/environmental politics and ethics. The parallel use of illusionistic space and historical painting techniques in my work is in reference to both the language and modes of representation used within the museum. It is through these discourses that my work approaches the problem of painting as a question of tension. Particularly, I am interested in the frictions that exist between painting, objectivity, collecting/displaying taxidermy, and the museum’s goal to promote the stewardship of the natural world. It is through the lens of natural history display that my work is positioned and connected to historical and contemporary painting practices.