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Blog about the studio, life and travels of visual artist Carly Drew.

Rembrandt's Slaughtered Ox

Carly Drew

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Slaughtered Ox, 1655

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Slaughtered Ox, 1655


Part of my graduate research is exploring the visuals of hunting in both traditional genre painting and contemporary trophy snapshots. An activity that typically takes place in rural areas, hunting is an important signifier for the way contemporary relationships to the land are evolving, making these images serve as important documentation of those ideas. The topic of hunting has also been part of an ongoing cultural debate that is becoming increasingly complex and clouded with misinformation thanks to the addition of social media. This is why I wanted to write a series of blogs that 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 and is now out of touch with this way of life. Hunting, as mainstream media will have you believe, often falls into this nasty spot of opposition to anything green environmental, etc. It doesn't help that PETA and other misguided eco-warriors are constantly empowering an anti-hunting sentiment based off misconstrued ideas of who hunters really are. 

Detail of my drawing, After the Hunt.

Hunters, like hikers, and any other person that enjoy spending extended amounts of time in the landscape feel a commitment to its upkeep. Whether you think hunting is good or bad, the majority of funding for wildlife conservation comes from both the sale of hunting licenses. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act that imposed and 11% Federal tax on ammunition, arms and archery equipment. Hunters often help researchers keep 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. 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 which relies on hunters to fund many of the wild places that we cherish. Unfortunately people are less quick to mention the positives involved, such as population management and keen attention to the welfare of the larger ecosystem, than they are to relay the next shocking image of some ridiculous big game trophy hunter out of Africa that doesn't accurately represent the ideology of most hunters. 


The fact that most hunters prescribe to some sort of code or belief system in relation to their time outdoors and the act of hunting in general has always been one of the things that has resonated with me. I've always found more comfort in nature than in the pews of a church andfind that it much easier to have a deep appreciation for how small you really are when you are interacting with the world at large. Hunting is also like religion in that it's something you're brought up around thats part of your culture and way of life. You're often taught at a young age a deep respect for the land, the animals and the responsibility involved with owning a firearm. In doing all this research on hunting and visual culture I stumbled across an essay posted online called Fighting the Anti-Hunterswritten 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 is truly a belief system, just like religion or spirituality, and systems of belief cannot be conclusively debated."

This idea that the arguments both for and against hunting are based on incredibly emotional decisions reinforced the way that I've been approaching hunting in my own work. This is the place I try to situate a lot of my imagery, with emotional contexts that get both parties invested in what is going on within the imagery in order to ultimately become part of the discussion surrounding it. This is also something I was interested in explore when beginning a recent drawing that dealt with an after hunt scene of a deer hanging from a tree. 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. 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 these interactions with the natural world can be.