Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wood, Mud and Scraps in Eco-Art Today

William Alburger, Forest, 2013, 65" x 108" x 9"  rescued spalted birch, in an solo exhibition at GRACE

      Eco-friendly art is meeting the world of high art, if we're to take a cue from what's showing at local art centers and galleries.  It can be stated that the earliest environmental art started with the artists' visions and applied those visions to the environment, with little interest in sustainability.
       Quite the opposite trend is developing now.  Several emerging  artists, the “environmental artists” of the 21st century put nature in the center--not the artist or the idea.  Nature is the subject and the artist is nature's follower. The following artists' creations are about the land and earth; other artists interested in the environment have been more concerned with a world under the sea.
William Alburger, Non-traditional Backwards
One-Door, 2012, 
27" x. 13.5" x 5.25
reclaimed Pennsylvania barn wood, specialty
glass and fabric
       William Alburger  lives in rural Pennsylvania, where he picks up scraps of wood from fallen trees and mixes them with discarded barn doors.  He is a passionate conservationist with an addiction to collecting what otherwise would be burned, decayed or discarded in landfills. Largely self-taught, Alburger formerly worked as a painting contractor. His art is both pictorial and practical.  Some sculptures almost look like two-dimensional works, while others function as shelves or furniture.  Hidden doors, cubbyholes and cabinets create surprises, making the natural world his starting point for expression.  Intrusions of man-made items are minor. The knots, whirls, colors and textures of wood speak for themselves, revealing rustic beauty.
William Alburger, Synapse, 2013,
 65" x 23" x 5.25"  rescued spalted
poplar and Pennsylvania barn wood


Currently the Greater Reston Area Arts Center (GRACE) is hosting a solo exhibition of Alburger's works.  In Synapse, Alburger cut into the interesting grain and patterns of fallen poplar. He framed top and bottom with old barn wood and reconfigured the form to suggest the space where two forms meet and form connection.  Allburger finds what is already there in nature, but, through presentation, teaches us how to see it in a new way.  Otherwise, we might not notice what nature can evoke and teach us.

Pam Rogers,  Tertiary Education, 2012, handmade
soil, mineral and plant pigments, ink, watercolor 
and graphite on paper.  Courtesy Greater
Reston Area Art Association

       Dedication to the natural world is second nature to Pam Rogers, whose day job is as an illustrator in the Natural History Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.  “I’m inclined to see environment as shaping all of us,” Rogers explains, noting the importance of where we come from, and how our natural surroundings mark our stories and connections.  While drawing natural specimens, she sees as much beauty in decay is as in birth, growth and development.  We’re reminded that everything that comes alive, by nature or made by man, will turn to dust.  Rogers' drawings combine plants, animals and occasional pieces of hardware.  Some of the pigments spring from nature, the red soil of North Georgia and plant pigments.

      As in Alburger's Synapse, above, Rogers seeks to form connections between man and the environment. She inserts nails and other links into the drawings from nature for this purpose, as in Stolen Mythology, below. At the moment, Pam Rogers' art is in the show, {Agri Interior} in the Wyatt Gallery at the Arlington Arts Center. One of her paintings is now in a group exhibition, Strictly Painting, at McLean Project for the Arts.  
Pam Rogers, Stolen Mythology, 2009 mixed media

      Rogers mixes traditional art techniques with abstraction, natural with man-made, sticks and strings, and does both delicate two-dimensional works and vigorous three-dimensional art.   Her sculptures and installations explore some of the same themes.  At the end of last year, she had an exhibition at GRACE called Cairns.  Cairns refer to a Gaelic term to describe a man-made pile of stones that function as markers.  Her work, whether two-dimensional or three-dimensional, is also about the markers signifying the connections in her journey.

Pam Rogers, SCAD Installation (detail), plants, wire, metal fabric, 2009

         "There are landmarks and guides that permeate my continuing journey and my exploration of the relationship between people, plants and place.  I continually try to weave the strings of agriculture, myth and magic, healing and hurting."  Several of her paintings have titles referring to myths, including Stolen Mythology, above, and another one called Potomac Myths.  Originally from Colorado, Rogers also lived in Massachusetts and studied in Savannah for her Masters in Fine Art.  It's not surprising that, in college, she had a double major in Anthropology and Art History.

Henrique Oliveira, Bololô, Wood, hardware, pigment
Site-specific installation, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
Photograph by Franko Khoury, National Museum of African Art
         Artists cite the spiritual and mythic connection we have to environment.  As a student, Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira noted the beauty of wood fences which screened construction sites in São Paolo.  Observing these strips being taken down, he collected them and re-used the weathered, deteriorating sheets of woods for some of his most interesting  sculpture.  Oliveira was asked to do an installation in dialogue with Sandile Zulu for the Museum of African Art in Washington, DC.  His project, Bololô, refers to a Brazilian term for life’s twists and tangles, bololô. The weathered strips can act like strokes of the paint brush, with organic and painterly expression, reaching from ceiling to wall and around a pole but usually not touching the ground.   Oliveira's installation is a reflection of the difficulty in staying grounded in life, in this tangle of confusion.

Danielle Riede, Tropical Ring, 2012, temporary installation in the Museum of Merida, Mexico
photo courtesy of artist

       Environmental concerns played a part in the collaboration of Colombian artist Alberto Baraya and Danielle Riede, at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, shown in 2011. Expedition Bogotá-Indianapolis was "an examination of the aesthetics of place and its plants" in central Indiana.  For two years, the artists collected artificial plants from second-hand stores, yard sales and neighborhoods in around Indianapolis.  Last year Riede did an installation for the City Museum of Merida, Mexico, Tropical Ring.  It's made of artificial plants garnered from second-hand crafts in from Indiana and Mexico. The plants were cut and reconfigured to evoke the pattern of an ecosystem, indoors.  Currently, the artist is looking for a community partner to participate in Sustainable Growths, an art installation of crafts and other re-used objects destined for abandoned homes in Indianapolis.
Danielle Riede, My Favorite Colors, 2006, photo courtesy

        Originally, Riede's primary medium was discarded paint, which she gathered from the unused waste of other artists or the pealing pigments of dilapidated structures.  My Favorite Colors, right, follows several paths of recycled paint along the wall of the Regional Museum of Contemporary art Serignan, France. Beauty comes from the color, light, pattern, and even from the shadows cast on walls to deliberate effect. The memory landscape is uniquely described in the eco-jardin-culture website.  The installation is permanent, although much of what we consider environmental art is temporary.

Sustainable Growths: Painting with Recycled Materials is Riede's
project to bring meaning to abandoned homes in Indianapolis. Artist's photo
      Fallen trees, branches and other wastes of nature are tools of drawing to artist R L Croft.  Some artists feel they have no choice but to re-use and re-claim discarded goods or fallen debris, as many folk artists and untrained artists have always been doing. The need to draw or create is innate and a constant in one's identity as an artist, but it's not easy to get commissions, jobs or sell art. Art materials are very expensive, so there is a practical objective to using environmental objects which do not need to be stored.

R L Croft, Portal, 2011, Oregon Inlet, North Carolina
To Croft, using the environment is a means of drawing, but on a very large scale.  His outdoor, impromptu drawings-in-the-wild are images grounded in his style of painting and sculpture Croft has made a number of sculptures called "portals" and/or "fences," most of which have been carried away by rising tides or decay.  He makes these assemblages out of debris found along the beaches, particularly those of the Outer Banks, in North Carolina.  Portal at Oregon Inlet, NC, left, was constructed of found lumber, nails, driftwood, plastic, rope, bottles, netting, etc. 

Environmentalism is not the primary content of his art. Croft says: "Making art for the purpose of being an environmentalist doesn’t interest me. Making art whose process is environmentally friendly does interest me."  He works in rivers, woods and on beaches.  In the aftermath of one natural disaster, Hurricane Irene, he brought meaning to the incident--both personal and anthropological. 

R.L. Croft, Shipwreck Irene, in Rocky Mount, N.C. Built in October, 2012, it's still there but
 less recognizable as a ship form.  The location is in Battle Park 
off of Falls Road near the Route 64 overpass. Photo courtesy of artist.
      Croft made Shipwreck Irene in Rocky Mountain, NC, when the Maria V. Howard Art Center held a sculpture competition and allowed him the use of fallen debris after Hurricane Irene, which left as much physical devastation as his sculptures allude to metaphorically.  The shipwreck is a very old icon in the history of art, usually associated with 17th century Dutch seascapes.  But to Croft, who in childhood found healing in the Outer Banks after the death of his mother, the meaning is deep. The area known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" fed his early sense of adventure and aesthetic appreciation for texture, decay and the abrasive effects of wind, sand and water. 
       Hurricane Irene "is much like the resilient community frequently raked over by severe hurricanes, yet plunging forward.  The current art center is world class and it is the replacement for an earlier one destroyed when still new. " Croft said. Shipwreck Irene is still there, but decay renders it increasingly unrecognizable as a ship form.  The temporary aspect is expected.  "People of the region know grit and impermanence," the artist explained. "I'm told that Shipwreck Irene became a habitat for small animals and small birds but that is a happy accident."
R L Croft, Sower, 2013, 22 x 14 courtesy artist
        Croft has also said:  “Nothing can be taken for granted. Constant change proves to be the only reliable point of reference. Equilibrium being as fleeting as life itself, one fuses an array of thought fragments retrieved from memories into a drawing of graphite, metal or wood. By doing so, the artist builds a fragile mental world of metaphor that lends meaning to his largely unnoticed visit among the general population."   Croft did an installation in the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a drawing in the wild entitled Sower, in homage to Van Gogh   He worked in wattle to make a large drawing that, in a metaphorical, abstracted way, resembles a striding farmer sowing his seed.  The farmer is the winged maple seed and it references Vincent's wonderful ink line drawings.
        Nature has been the subject of art by definition and a curiosity about the natural world has defined a majority of artists since the Renaissance.  The first wave of Environmental Artists applied their vision to the environment by directly making changes to the environment--permanent (Robert Smithson, James Turrell) or temporary (Christo and Jeanne-Claude)  Turrell ,whose most famous work is the Roden Crator in Arizona, is the subject of a major retrospective now in New York, at the Guggenheim.
        It is one thing for art to alter the environment, as the earliest environmental artists did. It is another thing to make art to call attention to the problems of waste and depletion of the earth's resources. Yet, it's an even stronger statement when professional artists exclusively make art that re-uses discarded items and turns them into art.  Environmental Art today addresses waste reduction and stands up against the problems caused by environmental damage to our rapidly changing world.  Designers are getting into this process, as explained in the previous blog. For example, Nani Marquina and Ariadna Miguel design and sell a rug made of discarded bicycle tubes, Bicicleta.
         In the future, I hope to blog on how artists address sustainable agriculture.  Currently, the main exhibition at Arlington Arts Center, Green Acres: Artists Farming Fields, Greenhouses and Abandoned Lots.


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  3. There is now a community partner involved in Danielle Reide's art project for Indianapolis:

  4. Patrick Dougherty, well-known environmental artist coming to GRACE in Reston on July 14th:

  5. Danielle Riede has completed her project in Indianapolis, a beautiful conversion with the community involved. Let's hope more restoration can be done

  6. RL Croft is currently show at Charles Krause Reporting Fine Art in Washington, DC.

  7. Here's a video about how Robin Croft:


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