Louise Pallister, 51
Artist by vocation
Fellow animal by instinct
Born and brought up in the North East of England, currently living in Berkshire, planning to move to North Yorkshire in search of a home-studio space.
How did you CONNECT with Nature?
It was my dad who passed a love of nature on to me, his respectful approach shaping how I relate to other animals and nature as a whole. I grew up in a village on the edge of town, what you might call the ‘suburban countryside’ where town gives way to scrubby fields. Roaming in the fields and woods, unsupervised in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, we got muddy playing in unsuitable places, knew birds by their calls, whistled through blades of grass, and collected leaves, conkers, even birds eggs for the school nature table. Our dog was my trusted teenage companion and, like others before me, I found in her a better confidante than many humans.
When I wasn’t outdoors, I was drawing animals, reading nature stories, or being introduced by Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough to a world of teeming wildlife or shaking a tin to ‘Save The Seals’. Circuses and zoos made me hesitant, I wanted to see the animals but they made me feel uneasy, and besides, as my dad said, "Animals don’t like to be made fools of."
How did you EXPLORE Nature?
Animal others were an inseparable part of my family life and so they also appeared in essays, drawings and craft projects, from school homework through to sketchbooks in college, finally becoming the main theme of my work when I returned to making art around 7 years ago.
Art and nature, I realised, are indivisible for me; animals are the only subject that really hold my attention for making art, everything else is second place. I tried to capture the essence or defining quality of an animal: fast or heavy, menacing or dignified, but I soon felt that simple representation was inadequate and didn’t describe their circumstances.
My MA Fine Art, of 2013-14, required some hard thinking about why animals are so important to me, and how that should shape my work. My art had to alter in response to my sympathy for nature: erasure, repetition and revision now evoking indistinct and ambiguous states in place of certainty. Nowadays I describe my practice as a means of bearing witness to elusive, endangered and extinct species and its output as extended field notes in which I can reflect on my experiences.
How did you FLOURISH in Nature?
A close connection with nature was at the margins of my adult life until quite recently but animal companions have been more or less constant. I feel enormously flattered to be of significance to individuals of another species. Our one remaining feline; old and unwell, teaches me patience and humility every day.
Nature now has a much more central place in my life, informing my thinking and my work. It’s more of a vocation than an occupation. For years I simply wandered round in a creative and philosophical wilderness, ‘not seeing the wood for the trees’. Finally accepting that ‘my things’ are art and nature, has given me both creative satisfaction and a sense of purpose. My MA course made me reflect upon my own ethics - becoming increasingly vegetarian – and consider the philosophical aspects of our relationships with other animals that animate my work. It’s a journey that has enhanced my appreciation for the world around us.
Focusing on nature in my work has also reminded me to get outdoors more and experience it first-hand. There’s a sense of relief in being away from the glare of screens and the noise of traffic. I feel sure there’s something very beneficial to being in a green wood surrounded by birdsong and walking is such a physical link to the earth. It clears and resets my mind in a way few other things do.
How do (and will) you DISPERSE your positive experiences of NATURE?
Someone asked me recently if I see what I do as activism or art? I make art because I’m an artist, it’s the thing I do to better understand the world. It happens that my subject matter is under threat on many fronts and that is of personal importance to me; if my work can make a connection, highlight an issue or have a positive impact then so much the better. I think most people who make art do so as a form of communication. Much of my work is about negative states in nature but I hope a recognition of that can lead at least to some positive thinking. There’s a Native American saying, “Who speaks for wolf?” I think it’s important we use our voices to speak for matters that concern us, particularly in support of the voiceless or vulnerable. Lately I’m making work about the impact of captivity on zoo animals and thinking about those conditions influences my approach to the work.
I’ve also turned some of the notes and research for my artwork into essays in which I examine related topics such as the ethics of making art about extinction, the meaning of the animal gaze and the possibilities for human-animal communication. Through making art and writing about nature I’m using different channels to explore our relationships with the natural world. I like the flexibility of working with different mediums; whether images or words, they’re just different tools for thinking with.
As an artist my work is often solitary and I’ve found social media, particularly Twitter, a useful meeting place for those with similar interests: artists, writers (including Hannah, of course) and academics that I otherwise might not come across and it’s a great place to read and research and, of course, share my own work.
Have you been responsible for CONNECTING someone in particular (or a group of people) to Nature and what have they gone on to do, or plan to do?
I love that the broad development of ‘animal studies’ unites the arts, humanities and sciences, making diverse connections possible. My art has been shown in various exhibitions (currently the Collyer Bristow show ‘Exceptional’ in Holborn, London until 14 June) but it’s also exciting that adding writing into my practice has connected me with nature lovers from other fields. Discovering the online journal ‘The Learned Pig’ led to their publishing my art/nature essays ‘The Extinction of the Image’ and ‘Significant Others’. As a result, Dr Wahida Khandker, who lectures in philosophy at MMU, became interested in my work and the thinking behind it. She’s using it as a reference point in her own research on animal advocacy, recently citing my ‘Stereotypy’ series (based on the pacing of a caged tiger - see left) in a seminar for Sheffield Animal Studies Research Centre. In future we hope to collaborate across our disciplines and that might lead to new connections and new ways of relating to nature.
Any other comments:
When thinking about ourselves and other animals I often refer back to the wonderful writings of John Berger, and I’m always inspired by his observation:
‘Animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises’
It’s a beautiful and powerful phrase, I think worth holding onto.
Nurtured by Nature: Connect / Explore / Flourish / Disperse.