The Controlled Wild

The Controlled Wild is a term I thought up in order to name a particular paradoxical condition present in human behavior. This condition is reflected in our conduct and how we occupy land, and how we relate to and interact with other species. It is evident in many parts of the world, but is particularly true in the western United States.

The Controlled Wild in my view, is the tension between the desire for control, for power, and the equal and opposite desire for abandon, for wildness, for freedom from convention. Friedrich Nietzsche chose to use Greek mythology, and the Apollonian (rationality, logic and order) and Dionysian ( chaos, emotion and instinct) tensions to describe this condition in his book The Birth of Tragedy.

In my view, the prolific use of barbed wire on the land in the western United States (of course it has many other applications in numerous places) is an example of this control, a measure of visual and physical supremacy on the land in order to protect the concepts of systemic control, so as to keep domestication in and wildness out, so to speak. This has had an enormous effect on our relationships with each other and with other species. For example, for many people, gone are the days when you can walk to your neighbors house directly, but must first go out to a road, walk it, and then turn in. Imagine how other larger species have to negotiate this ongoing tension.

I began to paint my own interpretation of this and other derivative tensions from The Controlled Wild almost three years ago, and continue to expand on some of my original ideas around land, boundaries, and wildness. Here is an example,

night owl, acrylic on canvas, 21” x 29”, 2019

night owl, acrylic on canvas, 21” x 29”, 2019

I have asked five other artists to participate in a group show, and interpret the meaning of The Controlled Wild. It will be interesting to see each artists use of materials and intellectual freedom, and our work in conversation with each other.

nick evite.jpg

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Nicholas Emery
September 22nd, 2019.

The black wolf returns

As someone who thinks of himself as a land artist, I don’t create images that are landscapes very often. Largely what I think about are how humans imprint themselves on land, and what effect this has on us and other species, and so I try to visually articulate that tension.

Wolves became extinct in Colorado (and other western states) in the 1940’s as part of U.S. federal and state efforts for the “destruction of such animals and such plant life that may be detrimental to us,” as articulated by the U.S. National Park Service in 1925.

Over the past decade, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has restored gray wolves into Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona, and some observers believe it's only a matter of time before wolves start migrating into Colorado from the north and south.

I began the ‘black wolf returns’ series in 2017. It began from a conversation I had then with wildlife ecologist Carl Mackey at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, 11 miles from downtown Denver in Commerce City. I asked him if he thought the wolf's return was imminent to Colorado: he said, “yes, it’s already happening”. 

From that conversation I began to think about the animal corridors that crisscross western states, connecting them, and how wolves might return and what they might see and experience, from their point of view, rather than ours (ranchers, artists, environmentalists, politicians, etc)


black wolf series, the return part 4, acrylic on canvas, 24.5” x 24.5”, 2019

black wolf series, the return part 4, acrylic on canvas, 24.5” x 24.5”, 2019

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Nicholas Emery
August 21st, 2019

A new word is born

On a 21 day trip down the Colorado river of Grand Canyon last October 2018 I was musing with some friends about the need for new words to describe Nature. It was largely born out of a sense of frustration and linguistic impotence. I felt there were simply not enough words in the English language to describe the web of such an incalculably rich phenomenon like Nature.

In that particular case I wanted to use a word that described the intelligent qualities of Nature and its unique ability to send messages to all of us, ones that are important for us to understand.

So I created the word mysten, and loosely defined it as an important or even vital message sent by Nature for us to consider. The message could be in the form of a dream, or an animal, or a sound, or a conspiracy of events, and so on. From there I began a series of paintings, and these imaginary creatures arrived.

mysten creation, acrylic on canvas, 4’ x 3’, 2018 by Nicholas Emery

mysten creation, acrylic on canvas, 4’ x 3’, 2018 by Nicholas Emery

I see these creatures as benevolent, sent to us to act as messengers and intermediaries between ourselves and other animals who we have lost a direct connection with.

From there I began creating imaginary new works on the possibility of human transfiguration - what a complete change of form or appearance into a more animal and spiritual state would look like. This was partly inspired by a moment a few years ago when I was deep in the forest and came upon a bull elk, and this majestic creature stared at me in such a way, unwavering, that I felt I was being spoken to.

transfiguration #1, acrylic on canvas, 35.5” x 25”, 2019

transfiguration #1, acrylic on canvas, 35.5” x 25”, 2019

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Nicholas Emery
June 22nd, 2019

A long time coming

It’s been three years since my last post, give or take. I’m not going to try to revisit personal events over the last three years. Rather, I’d like to continue with a once-a-month post, as I used to do, that discusses what’s taking place for me now - that is, some combination of an idea, a place, a vision, a piece of artwork, and so on.

Lately I’ve been on road trips exploring the North American west, the region I live in - and particularly Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico’s high desert, also known as the Colorado Plateau. It’s a rugged place with a rich and varied cultural history that predates the Euro-ethnic expansion beginning in 1492 on the shores of the Bahamas that eventually resulted in the genocide of North American tribal culture.

One such place is Capital Reef National Park, a surreal desert sandstone landscape with rich and fertile soil from the river and creek-water sources there. It was settled thousands of years ago by southwestern tribes, incorrectly named Fremont Indians after the Euro-ethnic explorer John C Fremont, but they were more likely related to the Pueblo, Ute, and Navajo peoples. Mormons settled the area in the early 1900’s and found ancient Indian irrigation ditches for crops there that they reused to plant fruit orchards with that still exist today. I was recently there and ate some delicious pies made from fruit that came directly from some of the nearly 3,000 fruit trees that are maintained by the park service.

One of the great ancestral legacies of the North American west, like the caves of Lascaux and Chauvet in southern France, are the rock art petroglyphs and pictographs left by early people. This work interests me for various reasons, but primarily because it exposes a deep and rooted relationship to Nature not easily defined by rational, scientific thought. At its essence, this is what drives my own work.

Capital Reef National Park petroglyph rock art by southwest American ancient peoples, photo by Nicholas Emery, 2019

Capital Reef National Park petroglyph rock art by southwest American ancient peoples, photo by Nicholas Emery, 2019

The paintings I have done in the Mysten series, the creatures of the Mysten (you can learn more about that series on my main page) clearly draw some inspiration from ancient rock art petroglyphs of the southwestern United States.

Acrylic on canvas, 4’ x 3’, 2018 by Nicholas Emery

Acrylic on canvas, 4’ x 3’, 2018 by Nicholas Emery

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Nicholas Emery
April 16, 2019