Spring is late this year. Even the non-native forsythia isn’t fooled. But does this mean I don’t think the climate is changing? Not at all. This week I was lucky to attend a talk given by atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe. Her take-home message: the single most important thing one person can do to fight climate change is to talk about it.
So I’m devoting this week’s blog to talking about climate change. But instead of me doing the talking, I’ll let my images speak for me. Interspersed are links to some terrific resources Katherine Hayhoe has created. Maybe one of these could help start a conversation with someone you care about but might disagree with regarding climate change.
All of my monoprint collages have a theme or purpose. Sometimes I begin with the purpose in mind, and other times it evolves with the piece. Then I have to create a title that fully encapsulates the purpose of the work. Easy right? In fact, titles can be troublesome.
My first completed work of 2019 is filled with details. Details make up everything. When I was a child, I would lay in my darkened bedroom and imagine myself going farther and farther into space. Born in 1967, I have never know a time when we did not know what the Earth looked like from space. But past the Earth and the Milky Way, well, I had no conception.
Zoom the other direction in your mind, and you begin to encounter the structures of all life — all of the molecules that make up everything that is animate and inanimate. Neil deGrasse Tyson explains that these elements were formed by ancient exploding stars and recombined to create our entire Earth and universe. “We are literally, not figuratively, stardust,” states Tyson.
If I venture out of my quiet home studio bubble to look at the news, I am saddened by the amount of conflict and discord throughout our country and our world. I know the reasons for discord. I do wonder what it would take for us to see ourselves in others? To acknowledge that we are made from the same stardust.
How do you talk about something that cannot be reclaimed? Many parts of nature can regenerate over time. Mountains cannot. On a recent plane trip, I came upon the exact topic with which I have been wrestling for the past few months — mountaintop removal (MTR). My latest linocut, No Atonement for Arcadia, imagines a place that is deeply loved and valued by humans, and is in danger of annihilation.
The true cost of MTR
In the Appalachian mountains, most of the coal that is accessible using underground mines has been extracted. Coal companies, in the hunt for low sulfur coal, have turned to MTR. The seams of this coal are thin, necessitating removing 99 meters of other rock to obtain 1 meter of coal. Removal means blasting and hauling rock, and then dumping this material in existing streams. Continue reading “Can art be an effective harbinger?”
Inspiration is a quixotic thing. Sometimes an image’s meaning is obvious, but for me, the stories behind my linocuts make their presence known in the slow, methodical process of creating. Such was the case with the linoleum block I created for my recent experiments with silk. My musings inspired the following essay, a version of which will be published in a compendium about justice sponsored by First United Church, Bloomington, Indiana. It is the brainchild of my dear friend, writer and artist Donovan Walling.
I am fortunate to live and make my art in a naturally beautiful place. Hikes in the hills and hollows around Bloomington, Indiana often inspire my art. I recently completed a series where I needed a striking image of topographical lines. An area on a map of the Charles Deam Wilderness caught my eye. Poetically called Cope Hollow, it had fingered bottom lands with steep hill contours radiating out like ripples from a raindrop.
When I title my pieces, I strive for playful ambiguity. I want people to see their own experiences in the work. In this case, the actual place demanded acknowledgement. Ridges and hollows in this part of the world are named for early residents. Certain names are still quite common in the county, but no listings for Cope appear in the phone book.
Two unpublished articles from the public library provided the best information about the Deam Wilderness, which was officially designated as a wilderness area in 1982. This area was the last part of Monroe County to be settled beginning in 1823. Native Americans may have hunted here at a much earlier time, but they did not stay.
Almost all of the Deam Wilderness is part of the Norman Uplands, a formation of mostly siltstone that was sculpted by glacial run-off into drainages and steeply-sloped ridges. The desirable bottom lands were the first to be settled, but were subject to unpredictable spring flooding. The ridges were settled last, some so narrow they only had room for a house and a frog pond for water. Top soil here is extremely thin and the slopes were too steep to be settled. Making a living meant trying to raise enough crops and livestock to feed your family, and most families relied on logging for cash income.
Who would choose to live in such a place? Certainly those who had enough means would have kept right on going, reaching lands farther west that were much more suitable for a profitable economic life. Those who remained spent day after back breaking day felling trees and digging stumps, trying to coax crops and fodder from thin steep soils with inconsistent water. When the Forest Service began buying land for a national forest in 1935, it is no wonder many people jumped at the chance to sell out.
In my daily life, I am surrounded by people who are socioeconomically similar to me. Many are artists and friends. Some collect my work. A few generations ago, areas just around my home were the homesteads of people who clawed a subsistence living from an ungenerous land. Some lasted so that their names are still mentioned in the local paper. Others like the Cope family, have vanished.
Many around the world still experience this harsh life today. A search for statistics paints a sobering picture of poverty. How did I become so fortunate? It is hard to know how to help when the global problem is so vast. Perhaps it is best to start small, in my own backyard.
My love affair with large linocuts has been tested this summer. In June, I began a 25 x 40 inch linocut of a large severe thunderstorm, fully intending to complete it in a month. Over the course of two months, I have used an engraving bit to texture every inch of this block — change occurring at a glacial pace — which is completely the opposite of a fast moving storm.
Travels, art delivery, holidays and my upcoming trip to Portland, Oregon have kept me from my next cloud linocut. But given that this is late March in the midwest, perhaps that is fortunate. I always have my phone with me, not so much to be connected with the outside world, but for the camera. Here are some of my most recent cloud captures — potential subjects for new work:
This menacing beauty emerged after I drove through a complete white-out of rain. My husband took the image as I tried to regain my composure. I felt sure we were going to be engulfed.
In a landscape with very little elevation, clouds provide another dimension. I can’t really see the clouds reflected in the flooded fields from this angle, but that is what imagination is for.
When the sun and clouds compete for attention, you can get some spectacular effects.
This cloud followed us around on our Easter night walk in our neighborhood, and brought super-ball sized hail.
I hope my flight to Portland comes complete with some spectacular clouds as well, but perhaps since I want a smooth flight with no delays, that might be asking too much.
If you want to see images from the 2016 Southern Graphics Council International conference in Portland, Oregon you can follow me on Instagram at elizabethbusey. Or search for #sgci2016 for images from lots of printmakers.
Interconnection has always been one of the defining concepts of my work. In doing research for my latest linocut on alfalfa of all things, I read articles about pollination, bee species, crop rotation and water export controversies.
This linocut is a depiction of a field of alfalfa, a plant from the legume family that produces a bluish-purple flower. Even more important than cranberries (the focus on my last linocut), alfalfa is a forage crop that is fed to dairy cattle. Like cranberries, alfalfa relies on bee pollination, in this case to produce seed to replenish the crop. So without bees, we wouldn’t have that milk for your coffee or for your favorite ice cream.
Alfalfa is a plant that has been around the world and back. We have records of its cultivation as a forage plant by the Greeks and Romans. It isn’t really a favorite of our imported honey bees. They complain that the structure of the flower smacks them on the head. And many experienced bees remember — so you need lots more bees — and young ones in particular — who are willing to be smacked on the head for the nectar. To the rescue comes our own native alfalfa leafcutter bee who somehow gets the nectar collected and the pollinating done without a fuss. But each of these species is greatly troubled by the use of the pesticides called neonicotinoids. You can read more about this issue in my previous blog.
In addition to the challenges of pollination, alfalfa is now positioned squarely in the middle of the water wars of the American West. Western farmers produce alfalfa (irrigated by precious water resources) as a good cash crop, and also as a rotation crop in the fields that grow the vast majority of the produce crops we enjoy. These farmers claim that if they don’t use their allotted water, they will lose rights to it according to current water laws. In addition, some part of this alfalfa crop is being harvested, baled, and shipped in containers around the world. Right now, American alfalfa is feeding Chinese dairy cows.
Beauty, fussy insects, water rights — honey, ice cream, the produce that makes up your nightly salad. I am left with a speechless fascination and awe of the intricacy and connectedness of our natural world. How to protect it? Which choices to make? How to make people care, especially when things get complicated — as they do with alfalfa.
In the epigraph of my copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, E.B.White is quoted:
“I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good. Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission. We would stand a better chance of survival if we accommodated ourselves to this planet and viewed it appreciatively instead of skeptically and dictatorially.”
I wanted to experiment with creating work that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but might force the viewer to think about the image. What is this pattern? What does it mean? Why did the artist choose to impose this extra element into the work? In Blessings of Bumblebees, I take a view of a cranberry bog at harvest time and place it within the matrix of a honeycomb. Cranberries — a native shrub to North America — are created through flower pollination. While imported honey bees do pollinate these plants, our native bumblebees actually do a better job. The plant and the insect were made for each other. Continue reading “Making art with a message”