Nathlie Provosty: Poison DartNovember 20th, 2020 - January 30th, 2021
When I had COVID-19 my sense of smell vanished, even canned tuna fish disappeared. My lungs were spared, but I had vivid dreams. A dragon crept its massive head through my open doorway, eyes glared; it was not a myth, it was an animal. I started drawing dragons and understood they related to time, power, the facing of fear.
The poison dart paintings have percolated in my mind for a few years, but I never felt right enough to make them. The name derives from a brightly colored frog with poisonous skin that could kill you if you touch it. I’ve explored subtle color and hidden images that feign invisibility over the past seven years. I’ve explored camouflage and studied the coloration methods of an octopus. I’ve been involved with trickery, as with deimatic color that appears to be something it is not, such as fake eyes on butterfly wings; in my case I’ve painted planes shifting and false edges. But aposematic color—vivid color that means what it signifies (danger, touch me = death)—I’ve not too much engaged. So the idea of these bright paintings sat by the wayside, waiting for me to become interested in paintings that can be forthright in their color, and unabashed in lifting sources from the biological world.
A note on frogs: they take exceptionally deep breaths. Scientists have studied how they piston air into their lungs (hoping to learn to help humans who otherwise need ventilators). They also absorb oxygen through their moist skin and thereby breathe with their whole bodies. Frogs live in realms wet and dry, take big leaps, and are sonic, like paint/painting/the painted.
The poison dart has sapphire, gold and lazurite skin. Their toxins attack a predator’s nervous system and the electrical impulses in the heart. Scientists hope to discover a new painkiller with their poison. Many people have felt pain this year. Our society is disease-ridden, in more ways than one. Can we heal?
I heard a vaccine is entering the market. A vaccine is aposematic color, in a sense, “a preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms that is administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular virus.” Not dangerous due to its scale, it becomes a healthy dosage of deceit.
COVID made me acknowledge I could never smell well. Now my olfactory organs work better than ever, I think. Maybe I’m just more aware. Perhaps the poison dart paintings are patches of chromatic awareness, therapeutic venom for facing dragons.
20 October 2020
Nathlie Provosty (b. Cincinnati, OH 1981) lives in New York City. Works are currently on view at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (2020) and were recently exhibited at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, NY (2020), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2019), and the Kunsthall Stavanger, NORWAY (2018); her first one-person institutional exhibition was held at the Risorgimento Museum in Turin, ITALY (2018-2019). The artist is represented in the collections of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (NY), the Baltimore Museum of Art (MD), the San Francisco Museum of Modern of Art (CA), and the Museum of Modern Art (NY), among numerous others. In December 2020 Hassla will publish a new image/poetry book of the artist with the acclaimed poet Anne Waldman, in coordination with an exhibition at A Palazzo Gallery in Brescia, Italy.