Environmental advocate Edward Abbey stated that “It is no longer sufficient to describe the world of nature. The point is to defend it.” In recent years, we have witnessed increased devastation brought on by natural disasters whose causes can be traced back to man-made damage to the environment. Most of us cannot fathom the extent of the irreversible damages that pollutants have had on our ecosystem thus far, but these gaps in our knowledge and awareness can hurt us the most. Each link in the ecosystem is indispensable. All of us with a platform and an audience must make sure that we compel those around us to not only pay attention, but also, to act.
As an artist, I like to think of my paintbrush, my camera, as well as every other medium I use, as my personal weapon in the fight to preserve the environment. I’m most interested and heavily invested in marine life. Call it a crusade, if you will, but I believe that my art, and in particular my most recent works, reflect my deep-rooted love and respect for nature in all of its manifestations. Likewise, the fear that I have for our fragile ecosystem and how much harm we’re doing to it is apparent in every brush stroke, and in every ray of light and shade in my work.
Case in point are my abstract oceanographic paintings. I strive to transform the visual elements of the molluscan shell into pure-energy; a mixed media panorama rife with struggles and drama which is the very essence of oceanic life. The hard, yet frail structures of the shell with its alluring colors and complex patterns turn into larger-than-life abstract explorations of my darkest and most intimate environmental anxieties. In my art, my love for sea life meets with an almost maternal instinct to protect it against all our human transgressions – environmental pollutants, overfishing, and climate change. This is expressed in subtle color choices and dramatic undercurrents of rising and falling swashes of bright hues with conflicting and almost aggressive and threatening darker tones lurking at the edge – always ready to disrupt the harmony and fluid sea and instill chaos where a balanced ecosystem reigns.
Because art is more than a message – it’s a mission – my paintings, photographs and mixed media pieces navigate the full wheel of the color spectrum to regenerate the path of floating forms as well as to rejuvenate the schema of the abstract seascapes. Woven together, naturalism and imagination, propelled by a rich color palette, help me illuminate the subtle wonders of marine life. What really attracts me to mollusks is the fact that they’re often overlooked. For the most part, they’re stationary and don’t offer the dramatic flippancy of, say, an octopus. Yet their static configurations hide vibrant ripples of a rich and active life that seem to portray the seascape with utmost truthfulness. All the shapes in my work, no matter how abstract, mask the explosive dynamism of a complex life lived by my molluscan models – a dynamism that can only unfold itself to the patient observer and marine lover.
As far back as I remember, I’ve been obsessed with both creativity and environmental activism. From offshore oil drilling to the alarming signs of environmental changes, I’ve always considered it my life’s mission to combine my art with my passion for conservation to raise awareness of the dangers our oceans are facing. Marine life is disappearing right in front of our eyes; the need to step up our efforts to stop the devastation has never been greater. Hence my emphasis on the architectural detail of the shells. At its core, my work provides a different lens to look at our world and energize our perspective. If viewers can appreciate the turbulent and diverse life that is only a few feet below the surface of the water, then my childhood dreams are finally a reality.
Those dreams have always led me into the water where molluscan life rolls with ocean undercurrents. The hours I spent observing those exquisite life forms were later transformed, with the help of an extra dose of imagination, into large-scale manifestations not unlike amphibian patterns. The vivid colors only reflect the captivating exhilaration I get as I immerse myself in this lavish beauty while struggling with my fear for its safety.
You can call me a conservationist, an activist, or a preservationist; my main concern is to revitalize people’s memory of aquatic riches that might not be there for our children. Perhaps my art depicts my personal journey as I come to terms with the dangers that threaten the very existence of the marine universe. But whether it conforms to predefined categories or stands out unique in style and message is not as important to me as preserving an ecosystem that for too long has been on the receiving end of reckless human policies and actions.
(Top image: Argus II, Mixed media on canvas, 44x 58″)
Judith Gale lives and works in New York City. She is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts and is one of the founding members of The Molluscan Science Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of our coral reefs. She works with many media, including painting, mixed media, and photography. In addition, Judith works in the New York City public school program as an art specialist. She aspires to frame the natural wonders of the environment in a way that allows viewers of her art to connect with the environment as authentically as possible; she aims to magnify nature’s beauties through the lens of various media.
Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.