Why the (G)narwhal?

If you have known me for any period of time, you probably know that I love these whales.  I want to take some moments to answer this simple question:  Why the (G)narwhal?  


Since boyhood, I have been very interested in animals, especially the strange and unusual ones.  I used to spend countless hours studying an animal book that contained pictures and descriptions of creatures from all over the world.  I was fascinated.  This fell away at some point, and I began a long and deep obsession with sports.   I don’t know exactly when it came back, but I know the gnarwhal resurfaced in college when I began to study art again.  I started college as an education/outdoor leadership major, but when I took a couple art electives, I realized that it was my true calling.  At this point, I began my project of becoming intentionally dramatic/eccentric, not so much by fabricating these traits, but by no longer suppressing them.  And so, a lifelong obsession with an obscure arctic whale seemed like a perfect fit.  It was strangely obvious to me.  I represent the narwhals now.  They had, at that time, only a very quiet voice in the world (much like my speaking voice), and like myself, the narwhal does the majority of its work deep below the surface.  I started incorporating these whales in my art pieces, but usually not as the center of attention, rather, as a hidden extra, hiding in plain sight within the structure of the composition.  I began casually talking about them, referring to them in passing, and spelling their name with a G.  Gnarwhal.  To emphasize the gnarliness of the gnarwhal.  


It was only after a couple years of subtly introducing gnarwhal propaganda into my daily interactions that I began to really explore the symbolism of this majestic creature.  First of all, they are real.  In my travels I have met countless people who either believe that they are a mythological creature, or who have never heard of them at all.  This is understandable, considering that most people have never seen a narwhal, and most people never will.  Their very existence seems improbable.  Whales fall into two categories, the toothed whales and the baleen whales.  All of the other toothed whales have teeth that remain in their mouths, but the narwhals (mostly the males), have one tooth that protrudes from their face in a long spiral tusk, much like that of the mythical unicorn.  In fact, the myth of the unicorn came from explorers returning home with narwhal tusks.  The idea of a unicorn was just more believable than the toothed whale.  So an important part of the gnarwhal’s symbolism is the magic and the mystery.  They live mostly in the unknown.  They are extremely difficult to study because they live in the forbidding climate of the frozen north.  In addition to this, they can hold their breath for 20 minutes, so even if we can make our way to the arctic, and find ourselves close enough to see them surface, they can disappear without a trace into the frigid arctic waters.  They represent the journey into the unknown, the exploration of the depths.  


However, they are not mysterious to all people.  The Inuit have a very different relationship with these whales.  They have survived in one of the most forbidding climates in the world because of the narwhal.  The Inuit people get all of the vitamins and minerals that they need, all of the sustenance that they require, from muk-tuk.  Narwhal blubber.  When western explorers came to the Arctic, they would all get sick, because of the lack of fruits of vegetables.  Scurvy and other forms of disease would plague the men.  But the Inuit would not have these problems, because of the nutrition contained within the narwhal blubber.  For this reason, the gnarwhal also symbolizes the nourishment of the people.  It symbolizes giving all that we have so that the people can survive.


When I began my senior thesis project at Warren WIlson College, I was overly ambitious.  I decided to choose the concept of infinity for my first ever self-directed art project.  So, being the lifelong gnarwhal representative that I am, I started thinking about how the gnarwhal is connected to the concept of infinity.  In addition to the exploration of the depths & the unknown, I also found that there have been various attempts to keep a narwhal in captivity, all of which have swiftly failed.  Therefore I concluded that, like the concept of infinity, the narwhal cannot be kept in a box.  It ceases to be what it was before.  It cannot be contained.  I also concluded that these whales have the same motto as the state of New Hampshire, “Live Free or Die!”  I completed this project by simplifying the project, from the concept of infinity, to Life, Death and Rebirth.  If you look closely, you will find gnarwhals in the Life and the Rebirth.


As the time has passed, I have continued associating myself with the gnarwhal in various ways.  I also work as a ski instructor in Vail, Colorado, and I’m the proud coach of my favorite group of young skiers, the Flying Gnarwhals.  We can been seen all over the mountain, hitting jumps, putting a single pole up to our helmets, and yelling “GNARWHAL”.  My father, with his eyes on the future, purchased the domain name gnarwhal.com, and saved it for years before I got my act together to make an art website.  Two summers ago, when I started traveling to festivals and showing my art, I realized that I needed a more interesting and memorable signature.  To this end, I taught myself how to draw a gnarwhal with a single stroke of the pen, and now thats what I do.  So I spent the past two summers personally signing every piece with this whale, slowly but surely spreading gnarwhal awareness.  At this point, I can confidently say that I have sold and given away hundreds of one-line gnarwhals, and I pledge to spend my life doing this work.  Though I did not know it in the beginning, it has become obvious to me that the gnarwhal is an important metaphor in our times.  With the melting of the polar ice caps, their habitat is rapidly disappearing.  Orcas are moving into their territory and hunting them, when previously the gnarwhals could remain safe between the ice sheets.  Their survival depends on the preservation of the Arctic habitat, while the momentum of modern society seems bent on its destruction.  While the forces of corporate & governmental control threaten our very existence with their reckless greed, solidifying their power by attempting to limit our speech and even our minds, I stand with the gnarwhal, and the state of New Hampshire, in saying “Live Free or Die.”  You may try to silence my voice & limit my freedoms, but you will never control my mind.  Gnarwhals Forever.