Environmental Impact

The Power of Art Confronts Our Environmental Crises

Above (details CW left to right): Robert Bateman, "Carmanah Contrasts," 1989, Acrylic on canvas; Bart Walter, "Climate Change," 2010, Bronze; Leo Osborne, "Still Not Listening," 1989, Maple Burl Wood and Vinyl Caulking; Walter Ferguson, "Apocalypse," 1992, Oil on canvas.

Discover the voice of art for environmental change, as we welcome the touring premiere of Environmental Impact to the galleries of the Canton Museum of Art!

Disappearing coastlines. Species pushed to the brink of extinction. Polluted water supplies. The industrial world wreaking havoc on the natural habitat of birds, animals, fish and humans.  This is our world today ... and as it has been for many decades.  What needs to change to allow the survival of species?  The survival of the very planet we all call home?  This is the purpose of the exhibition Environmental Impact — to heighten public consciousness through the power of art about the intentional or unintentional consequences of environmental exploitation and neglect. And to perhaps effect change through the eyes, and actions, of its audience.

Environmental Impact is a traveling exhibition curated by Dr. David J. Wagner, author of the reference book, American Wildlife Art, and curator/tour director of an impressive list of related exhibitions, including The Art of Robert Bateman (McMichael Canadian Art Collection Premiere), Blossom ~ Art of Flowers (sponsored by the Susan K. Black Foundation, Houston) and Endangered Species: Flora and Fauna in Peril, which toured to the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, D.C.

Above (left to right): Michael (Mick) Meihlan, "Reality" (Corn Genetic Engineered), 2012, Blown Glass and Cast Bronze Installation, 9 x 9 x 9 feet, Collection of the Artist; Mary Helsaple, "Trouble in Paradise" (Amazon Rainforest), 1994, Watercolor on paper, 36 x 48 inches, Collection of the Artist; and Walter W. Ferguson, "Save the Seashore," 1993, Oil on canvas, 27.5 x 37.75 inches.

Art of natural history traditionally depicts nature in all its glory in beautiful, pristine condition. The paintings, photographs and sculptures of Environmental Impact are antithetical to that tradition. Instead, they confront pressing issues of our time, from land development to industrial-scale depletion of natural resources, from the Gulf oil spill to the dangers of nuclear energy, the trashing of the American landscape, and the impact of Global Warming.

>> Download a PDF of the Environmental Impact Exhibition Essay

>> View the Artists and Works Showcased in the Exhibition Here (opens a new page)

To heighten public attention on these and other environmental issues, Wagner draws upon connections with organizations and legendary artists such as Canadian painter Robert Bateman, Swedish-born sculptor Kent Ullberg and American artist and poet Leo Osborne, whose work has collectively shaped and fulfilled The Environmental Movement. The exhibition features iconic works such as Requiem for Prince William Sound, Ullberg’s elegy to victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the worst man-made ecological disaster of its time; and Still Not Listening, a poem and sculpture of the same title by Osborne in which he expresses frustration and outrage at the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion and subsequent spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Above: Lucia deLeiris, The Greenland Sea (Arctic), 2011, Oil on canvas, 24 x 72 inches, Collection of the Artist
Read the Artist's Statement about the Work (PDF in new window)

While the Exxon Valdez and Gulf Oil spills were single events, they are symptomatic of larger issues and challenges confronting the planet’s plants, animals, habitat and humanity. To address threats to marine life and old growth forests posed by commercial fishing and logging conducted on an industrial scale, Canadian painter Robert Bateman dedicated an entire series to environmentalism beginning in 1989 with Carmanah Contrasts, a kind of color-field painting that grew out of a collective effort by artists who gathered on Vancouver Island in British Columbia that year to document the clear cutting of Carmanah Forest, an old-growth area. They subsequently published their work as a collective to create awareness and resistance. Bateman’s most iconic work of the period was Mossy Branches—Spotted Owl, a potent symbol in the Pacific Northwest where the cornerstone of economic life—logging—was not only effected by but actually impinged upon the bird’s status under the Endangered Species Act. At the time, environmental organizations such as Earth Watch and the Sierra Club estimated that old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest had been so drastically depleted, that only five percent of the region’s virgin forest remained. At the cutting rate that prevailed at the time — 170 acres a day — these groups also estimated that all old-growth trees would be depleted within several decades.

Taking advantage of the opportunity that his success afforded him, Bateman pushed the limits of environmental art even further by creating a controversial painting that contrasted old-growth and clear-cut forest imagery in a new style altogether. Bateman continued his environmental foray with other brave and powerful paintings, notably, in 1993, with Self-portrait with Big Machine and Ancient Sitka, and Driftnet (Pacific White-sided Dolphin & Lysan Albatross), a painting that exposes the grim realities of commercial fishing. For maximum impact, Bateman overlaid the painting with actual non-biodegradable commercial fishing netting, net that could cut, entangle and kill unintended victims with ease.

Robert Bateman
(Pacific White-sided Dolphin & Lysan Albatross)
1993, Acrylic on canvas (with nylon net overlay, 36 x 36 inches
Collection of Birgit and Robert Bateman

Read the Artist's Statement about the Work (PDF in new window)

Environmental Impact also contains disturbing paintings of the American landscape by Chester Arnold; an apocalyptic panorama by Chris Doyle; an imperiled nuclear power plant by Israeli painter Walter Ferguson; a stunning polar bear family installation by Japanese sculptor Sayaka Ganz, making a statement on global warming; photographs by Peter Goin, including his iconic Trinity (site of the world’s first nuclear detonation); Scott Greene’s surreal satellite dish landscape; powerful photographs by Frank Stewart, who documented the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers levy broke and flooded the city; and photographs by Robert Dawson of subjects such as now-former Colorado River wetlands in Sonora, Mexico. 

Above: Chester Arnold, Holding Pond, 1996, Oil on linen, 60 x 72 inches, Collection of the Artist - Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco; Leo Osborne, MO-BEE-US, 2013, Maple Burl Wood, Epoxy and Gold Leaf, 14 x 14 x 6 inches; and Carol Santora, Last Killed (The last Bali Tiger, killed on September 27, 1937), 2003, Mixed media, 22.5 x 27 inches, Collection of the Artist.  Read the Artist Statements about these works (PDF in new window)

Environmental Impact doesn’t stop there. Far from it. Cutting-edge paintings and sculptures address a plethora of other environmental issues and concerns ranging from pollution on the Mediterranean, to the recent loss of bee populations, the impact of genetic engineering on food for human consumption, drought and out-of-control western wildfires, dangers to urban wildlife, illegal trade in wildlife skins and endangered species to name but a few more.

Viewers of Environmental Impact will experience the beauty, the turmoil, the levels of ambiguity and mixed message, but may also feel unexpected epiphanies, even pragmatic responses to environmental concern and outright crisis that art uniquely provides the human spirit.

Kent Ullberg
2011, Stainless Steel, 33 x 18 x 11 inches
Collection of the Artist


Environmental Impact Historical Context Essay

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT is produced by David J. Wagner, L.L.C., David J. Wagner, Ph.D., Curator/Tour Director, davidjwagnerllc.com.

Exhibition information available from ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT Tour Office, David J. Wagner, L.L.C., davidjwagnerllc.com, (414) 221-6878, davidjwagnerllc@yahoo.com”  -- on the web at davidjwagnerllc.com

Environmental Impact Touring Exhibition Prospectus