The Great Hare’s mis­sion

Painter Rab­bett Be­fore Horses Strick­land

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Michael Abatemarco

Nan­abozho, an Anishi­naabe cul­ture hero, is a beloved fig­ure among the Ojibwe. Also called the Great Hare, Nan­abozho is re­garded as a trick­ster fig­ure, a shape shifter who can take the form of a rab­bit. He is be­lieved to have been sent by Gitchi Man­i­tou, the Great Spirit, to teach hu­mankind. But ac­cord­ing to artist Rab­bett Be­fore Horses Strick­land, Nan­abozho is not an emis­sary from a dis­tant realm — he came from our own world. “Both spirit (man­i­tou) and hu­man, Nan­abozho em­bod­ies that which every­one must de­cide: Are you a part of the earth or did you come from some­place else?” Strick­land writes on his web­site. The Great Hare is a con­stant pres­ence in Strick­land’s paint­ings, ex­em­pli­fy­ing a per­va­sive spirit that an­i­mates all things.

Strick­land started in­cor­po­rat­ing the fig­ure into his work af­ter en­coun­ter­ing Nan­abozho in a dream. His paint­ings are nar­ra­tive works that de­pict sto­ries from Ojibwe mythol­ogy in a syn­the­sis of Euro­pean paint­ing styles and First Na­tions lore. “I just try to de­pict the sto­ries as well as I can,” said Strick­land, whose work can be seen at We Are the Seeds. While he draws from his Ojibwe her­itage for his sub­ject mat­ter, com­po­si­tion­ally his paint­ings re­late more to the works of the artists of the Ital­ian Re­nais­sance and the Baroque, pe­ri­ods he has in­tently stud­ied since first learn­ing about them as a teenager. “My move­ment came from Bot­ti­celli, my color from Rubens, and my form from Michelan­gelo,” he said. These in­flu­ences are vis­i­ble in his work, al­though the im­agery re­lates di­rectly to Nan­abozho and his ap­pear­ance as the Great Hare, of­ten de­picted in Strick­land’s paint­ings as a hy­brid form — part rab­bit, part man. “I started out do­ing Greek mythol­ogy,” he said. “The satyrs were of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est. My first sto­ries of Nan­abozho had him shape shift­ing into a rab­bit (waa­booz). I don’t think it’s a co­in­ci­dence that he came into my dreams as half a waa­booz, like the satyr half-goat.” Strick­land’s com­po­si­tions may re­call the mythic scenes from Greek and Ro­man mythol­ogy de­picted in Re­nais­sance and Baroque art, but his work is less nat­u­ral­is­tic than that of Rubens or Ti­tian, whom he also cred­its as an in­flu­ence. His own fig­ures, such as mus­cled war­riors and other char­ac­ters, their long windswept hair blow­ing in a man­ner that evokes the grace­ful fig­ures of Bot­ti­celli, are rich in Ojibwe sym­bol­ism. They tell tra­di­tional tales of hero­ism and ad­ven­ture and sto­ries of cre­ation such as his Re-Cre­ation Story, in which Nan­abozho spreads mud over the wa­ters to cre­ate Tur­tle Is­land (the world) and Nan­abozho Lights the Sun. In a de­scrip­tion of the paint­ing, Strick­land writes that the Great Hare “lights a new sun to grow a new medicine — the medicine be­ing a Col­lec­tive Con­scious­ness, where all things come to­gether to cre­ate Change.”

To Strick­land, Nan­abozho is not a trick­ster fig­ure but an am­bas­sador of Gitchi Man­i­tou, and the Great Hare’s pres­ence her­alds the com­ing of greater con­scious­ness. “The past and the fu­ture only ex­ist in the present,” he said about the ded­i­ca­tion to Ojibwe mythol­ogy in his work. “It is not only for the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, but also for the present and for my an­ces­tors.”

No­madic Mnidoos, 2016, oil on can­vas

MY MOVE­MENT CAME FROM BOT­TI­CELLI, MY COLOR FROM RUBENS, AND MY FORM FROM MICHELAN­GELO.

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