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Artwork of Carly Drew

Rembrandt's Slaughtered Ox

Carly Drew

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Slaughtered Ox, 1655

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Slaughtered Ox, 1655

As mentioned in my post last week that part of my research is exploring hunting in both traditional genre painting and contemporary trophy snapshots.  As an activity that typically takes place in rural areas hunting is an important signifier for the way contemporary thoughts about the land are evolving, so these images serve as an important sociocultural documentation of those ideas.  This is why I wanted this new series to focus on starting a visual dialogue about the interactions that take place between man, nature and culture through hunting.

The concept of the hunter as an interface between nature and culture is an aspect that seems to get lost in the age of a sub/urban population that is becoming increasingly removed from their food sources, as well as PETA types and other eco-warriors who are constantly empowering an anti-hunting sentiment.  So why does the idea of hunting fall into this nasty spot of opposition to anything green, eco, environmental, etc.?  I think this stigma stems from the perpetuation of stories about excess, drugging game or just the general twisting of anything good that it could potentially do in mainstream  media, as well as a large part of the population being out of touch with this way of life.

People are less quick to mention the positives involved, such as population management, attention to the welfare of the larger ecosystem, and the close tabs kept on growth, decline and the general health of the game that provide important data for researchers to examine the environment in more detail.  Whether you think hunting is good or bad, the majority of funding for wildlife conservation comes from both the sale of hunting licenses and the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act that imposed and 11% Federal tax on ammunition, arms and archery equipment.  Hunters, like hikers, and any other person that enjoy spending extended amounts of time in the landscape feel a commitment to its upkeep.

{Here is an interesting blog post on the Decline of Hunters and Funding of Wildlife Conservation, that talks about how funds for habitat restoration, management, and research are supported through hunting more than wildlife viewing.  Also the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has some great in-depth info about the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.}

In doing all this research on hunting and visual culture I stumbled across an essay called Fighting the Anti-Huntersposted online by an avid hunter tired of the arguments between both hunters and PETA types.  The author ended his essay by saying that, "the logical argument in this issue almost invariably leads to a draw, because at the heart of the whole thing is an emotional decision...it is truly a belief system, just like religion or spirituality, and systems of belief cannot be conclusively debated."  After reading his conclusion, this idea of personal preference seemed like a good place to situate my imagery and where most of my work already starts from.  While that ongoing debate is interesting to follow, it is much like a religion in that it's something you're brought up around, it's a culture and a way of life a lot of people follow and that's why I've decided to embark on this new series .

The next big question for me was how do you make those 19th century sport paintings and snapshots into a contemporary work of art?  For some reason my gut instinct was to start by referencing history, specifically by taking cues from  Rembrandt and his painting of a  Slaughtered Ox.  How does a 350 year old study of a hunk of beef have anything to do with the topic of hunting and it's place as a mediator between nature and culture? Well Rembrandt's painting has some interesting implications for a contemporary audience in his use of both sacred and profane elements.  The arched picture plane was typically reserved for religious paintings and is the first visual clue he gives that this still life has more meaning, but the quasi-Mary figure in the background firmly places the profane subject of a meat study into a sacred context.  So what does sacred and profane have to do with a drawing about hunting?  Needless to say the essay's comparison of hunting to religion inspired me to use Rembrandt's arched format to emphasize this spiritual or culturally embedded notion of the hunting tradition.  Especially since in contemporary culture hunting is full of secular readings, to represent the deer in an almost sacred context adds weight to the idea of how crucial and full of reverence this interaction with the natural world really is.

Not only is this interaction important, but where these interactions take place is too.  That is the reason the Mary figure in the background is replaced by a universally grungy shed with an ancient basketball hoop, something that symbolizes this is one of those rural, fringe places where land, nature and culture meet.  It's the place where the rural landscape becomes important as a cultural and visual icon of how many people still carry out daily interactions with the land.

Ultimately part of me wants to expose this intimacy and integrity in hunting and the other part wants to somehow show "high" culture something regional and in turn tell them that yes, regionalism still matters regardless of how much globalization encroaches into our lives.  The rural is still exotic enough to some and everyday enough to others that when it's represented in a visual context people can't help but realize the complexities that take place in rural settings are more important than any quest for a grand American vision, nostalgia or even as just another "pretty" picture would have you believe.