Building Worlds as a Message about our World
The tide of climate change is too easily dismissed as a slow steady march that can be denied or at least ignored in favor of “more pressing” issues. In my Building Worlds series, I create paintings that fuse past, present, and future eras into imaginary worlds to emphasize our inevitable and potentially irreversible effect on the planet. At first glance my paintings resemble captivating cityscapes perhaps gone a bit awry. Viewers find themselves struggling to place these scenes in memories from travels and other experiences. Their contemplation often leads them to linger, observe, and process the imagery more deeply beyond the initial aesthetic. But these are not your typical vistas. They contain a message that begins to reveal itself upon closer examination. Something is happening to these worlds. There is an aspect of urgency to the scenes that people often begin to sense. Strata teem with suggestions of past civilizations. Debris and crumbling elements resembling ruins from antiquity are interspersed with gleaming, modern imagery all condensed into a single work as if they are “time-lapse paintings.” The skies are infused with dripping and texture that suggest that weather no longer exists in its predictable form. What does all of this mean? Can it be good? Can we continue to accelerate our consumption of our planet’s resources while ignoring the costs? I hope my work can lead people to consider such questions.
Repurposing with a Purpose
The heart of my work is repurposing – taking one thing and using it for something else. In a sense, I have even chosen to repurpose my passion for painting as a conduit to highlight issues, action steps, and the work and efforts of others to combat climate change. I have joined the many artists striving to permeate concern for our planet into our culture. My paintings give me a means to build community and to help increase general acknowledgement of the need to address climate change sooner rather than later. Repurposing is a hopeful and important process that will be central to the health of our planet as “progress” places constant pressure on us to consume at the cost of our environment, while at the same time threatening to render us obsolete. Repurposing helps to counterbalance these forces.
The Genesis of my Worlds
The story of my current work began in Jerome, a small town in Arizona that was itself repurposed from a mining town to a tourist destination. In 1957 when the copper mine was closed, the town was threatened, but with ingenuity it was deemed a historic town, and the mine was reopened as a “ghost town.” I visited Jerome on a family vacation. The sweeping views were impressive and the ghost town feature was a must-see for the kids. The operational infrastructure of the mine had been left in place to “age with the elements,” and the desert climate had been relatively kind. Work trucks from the 1940’s stood in place, like colorful ghosts. The patina of their aged surfaces and lines of their bodies told the story of a bygone era and the bittersweet beauty of aging. I painted my Truck Series: Jerome Arizona based on my love for these trucks, at that point in time, in that setting.
My Process of Artistic Propagation
I chronicled this series of paintings and kept extensive digital images of them. I had painted the trucks with a thick impasto technique that lent dimensionality and texture true to the aging surfaces of the vehicles, and the photos of my paintings retained much of this visual texture. In a sense, I was “haunted” by those images and they spoke to me. In the spirit of repurposing, I conceived of a process I now call artistic propagation. I began by extracting the textured elements so vividly shown in these photos and bringing them into a fresh new context. With this in mind, I experimented with digitally manipulating photos of my paintings, cropping components such as grills and headlights from the trucks to create unique printed archival collage papers. I planned to affix them to the support in a purely abstract non-representational manner. I found myself arranging them in strata and enjoying the results. I also realized that worlds like none I’d seen before were emerging and that I could build these worlds in a metaphorical way that gives voice to my concerns about our planet.
In general, propagation is the reproduction or spreading of something. It applies to plants and animals in nature, and it also applies to the spread of ideas. My process of extracting elements from my existing works and using them to create new ones to convey a message is similar to that of propagation both in our natural and ideological world. In a sense, each of my works contains the “genes” of its ancestors, and I use these works as a vehicle for promoting interest in and awareness of efforts to save our planet.
Since this initial period of exploration, my artistic propagation has expanded to include intricate layers of construction. In addition to metaphorically “salvaging vehicle parts for reuse,” I repurpose by creating collage material incorporating stamping and sgraffito effects from castoff apparatus and implements including pipette holders, variegated tubing, wire gauze, rubber stoppers, and well plates. Fortunately, I am able to easily access these items from a Durham, NC organization called The Scrap Exchange. One of the first creative reuse centers in the United States, The Scrap Exchange diverts 167 tons of materials from the waste stream annually. Their mission is to promote creativity, environmental awareness, and community through reuse. They recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, and they are poised to ramp up their global reuse impact. They have launched plans to establish the National Center for Creative Reuse (NCCR), which will contribute to a global reuse revolution through factors such as philanthropy, research, and education.
Organizations like The Scrap Exchange give me hope for the future of our planet. I feel fortunate that as an artist, I have a unique platform for sharing their story and the stories of many other organizations and individuals working to help our planet. This Artists & Climate Change blog and others like it are an encouraging window into the global efforts across the arts to address climate change. As we continue to join in chorus, we will amplify our impact.
(Top image: World Wide Web, 16”x 20” Acrylic & Collage)
Jenny Blazing was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She is an artist now living in Durham, North Carolina. She graduated from University of California, Davis with degrees in Environmental Design & Economics and subsequently earned a Ph.D. from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her work focuses on the ephemeral beauty of our world and our need to do our best to respect and preserve it. She recently held a debut showing of her Building Worlds series. Follow Jenny Blazing on Instagram.
About Artists and Climate Change:
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.