NATURE IN DISTRESS
By Daryl E. Bibicoff
Nature is important to me as a person, and it is significant in my work as an artist. I often think about the destruction of nature. When I am out in the mountains hiking or biking, I see devastation to the environment, much of which has been caused by humanity. Examples of man's exploitation of nature show up in the media every day. Although mankind must depend on what nature provides to thrive and move forward, I believe it is time for society to become serious about environmental responsibility. Mankind must show respect for the beauty and integrity of nature, and preserve our natural resources for the generations to come. My artwork is an expression of these concerns.
Mankind has become very proficient at causing devastation to the land, water and air, often through sheer negligence. Large corporations exploit the environment for profit and threaten the health of humanity. The following is a partial list of environmental calamities in the United States that have had severe consequences for the biosphere from the middle of the 20th century to the present.
• In the early 1950s, the Hooker Chemical Company buried tons of toxic waste in a dumpsite near Niagara Falls, New York, at a location known as Love Canal. “EPA scientists found 82 toxic chemicals in air, water, and soil samples near the dumps. The numerous toxic chemicals -- a dozen of which are carcinogenic -- discarded at Love Canal over the past 30 years have triggered several health problems, including miscarriages, among the area's residents, and have transformed whole sections of this once pleasant community into a ghost town." [Barbara Blum, EPA Press Release, December 20, 1979]
• For approximately four decades, the Monsanto Corporation unloaded toxic waste into the West Anniston Creek in Anniston, Alabama, in the form of industrial coolants known as PCBs, which were banned by the U.S. government in 1979. In addition, millions of pounds of these PCBs were emptied into pit landfills that were not completely filled. The company paid $700 million in 2003 to settle legal claims by Anniston residents. [CBS 60 Minutes, August 31, 2003]
• In 1970, the lead mines in Picher, Oklahoma closed, due to massive accumulations of mine waste. The contaminated area covered 25,000 acres. Nearby residents were poisoned, and sink holes opened up in the mountains filled with mining waste. Though some people chose to stay in the area, most of them left in 2006 because of the land began caving in. Federal aid was provided. [earthfirst.com]
• In 1979, an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania resulted in a partial core meltdown and a reactor coolant leakage, which exposed people in the region to toxic levels of radiation. [earthfirst.com]
• The notorious Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989 poured 10.8 million gallons of crude oil across 11,000 miles of ocean near Prince William Sound in Alaska. This was destructive to more than 200,000 sea birds, almost 3,000 sea otters, 300 seals, 250 bald eagles, more than 20 orcas. In addition, the spill instantly destroyed billions of salmon and herring eggs. [earthfirst.com, Scholastic Update 4/15/1994]
• During December of 2008, Kingston, Tennessee was flooded by billions of gallons of toxic sludge because a dam collapsed at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Fossil Plant. This sludge was the result of burning coal. The muddy precipitated mass covered 300 acres of land. Bruce Nilles, director of a Sierra Club campaign called “Beyond Coal”, stated that this catastrophe “turned everyone’s attention from air pollution to the dangers of toxic coal ash.” Fifteen homes were destroyed and the remaining households now sit on land containing arsenic, mercury and lead. [earthfirst.com, Rolling Stone 4/1/2010]
• In 2010, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was caused by an explosion of a “British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon” oil rig. Toxic compounds contaminated the water. The oil got trapped in the sediment. This was destructive to the wetlands and wildlife. [Scientific American, July 2010]
• The March 11, 2011 earthquake, near Sendai City in Northern Japan, damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi electric power plant. Radioactive contaminated water leaked into the Pacific Ocean and increases in plutonium were discovered in the soil near the plant. [New York Times, March 29, 2011]
Evolution and Influences
I received my undergraduate degree from the CSUN Art Department in 1985 and returned to finish my Master Arts degree in 2007. During the time in between, I continued to work as an artist, but because I had limited funds, I had to be resourceful. At one point, I created two abstract textural paintings using materials I found around my house including spackle, plaster, gauze, gravel and acrylic paint. As a family man on a budget, this was the only way I could create art at home.
It was this process that led me to the desire to make a connection between natural and man-made resources. I did not really understand what I was creating when I came back to CSUN, but further down the road my committee helped me identify and refine the direction of my artwork. Looking back, that road began when I first showed my abstract textural paintings to Samantha Fields in 2007. In these abstract expressions of the natural landscape, I believe I was somehow expressing my concerns for the planet’s natural resources. I created a series of paintings using found materials and acrylic paints from around the house to capture my connection with nature. This included abstracted textural landscapes that were representative of water, land, and flowers. The textures I created were meant to be touched and seen.
In the Fall of 2009, I met with Samantha Fields for a second time. We discussed the textural qualities in my paintings, and she encouraged me to return to the program and assisted me with the protocol. In his graduate drawing class during the Spring of 2010, Professor Ron Petrosky assigned several projects based on my desire to continue working with abstract textural paintings. I created abstract-shaped textural canvases on masonite, on which I explored a variety of media and man-made materials. One of these paintings was an abstraction of sea and coral, another was an abstraction of a hiking trail, and the third painting was an abstraction of Mount Whitney. The materials I used included acrylics, gravel, plaster, pastels, spray paint and many non-traditional resources.In Fall of 2010, I had the great fortune of taking Joy Von Wolffersdorff’s graduate-level figure-drawing class. During her course, I used tar paper as an alternative surface to create a shaped canvas for my assigned projects. I drew and painted figuratively on watercolor paper with acrylics and pastels and then glued that paper to the tar paper. Additional materials included plaster, a little gravel, twigs, and leaves. After securing the figurative artwork to the tar paper on the second project and adding plaster, gravel, leaves, and twigs, I tore up the tar paper. From there, I re-assembled and glued the pieces together to enhance the abstraction.
Several pivotal moments occurred in 2010 that changed the direction of my work. The first came in the spring after Samantha suggested I go bolder and take my textures to a new level. At the same time I was questioned as to my rationale for my color choices, which did not work with my textures. I read a book by Irving Kriesberg titled, “Working with Color” and decided that tension produced by complementary colors would be appropriate. When I did so, a change became apparent with this mix of color and texture. I had been talking about texture and inviting viewers to touch my artwork, but now the color and texture in my work did not coincide with what I was saying. Samantha made a comment about my work taking on “toxic” qualities, and she referenced two key sources. The first is the book “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman. He discusses that what humans have built has negatively impacted the natural environment. Secondly, she mentioned the movie “Toxic Avengers,” which was a B movie from 1984. In this movie, mutated superheroes battled evil alien polluters. I took this to heart with regard to my artwork. In fact, this was why I continued with my commentary on the environment.
The other key moment was the “Big Crit” in the Fall of 2010. Two of the works in my installation for this critique were sculptures. I made them out of gauze, plaster, gravel, non-traditional media, and painted them with acrylics and spray paint. My committee pointed out that the process I was working with was better suited to sculpture, because the mixed media in my installation was lacking conceptual purpose. Christian Tedeschi, the sculpture professor, recommended that I move into sculpture and try working with fiberglass, resin, and non-traditional media.
My use of color was still not resolved at this time, but Joy’s earlier suggestion to think monochromatically was fresh in my mind. I started using molds to create sculptural studies to facilitate a more meaningful use of color. In my studies there was still work to be done with my use of color. In order to make this work I needed to switch from molds to armatures. I began with gestural figurative drawings, and worked subtractively by carving Styrofoam sculptures that morphed as I carved. Some forms became abstract, while others retained figurative elements. The next step was an additive process using materials that included eco-friendly resin, pigment, acrylics, gravel, twigs, leaves, recyclable aluminum, and recyclable plastic.
Throughout this evolution, I was influenced by a couple of contemporary artists I admire. As Anish Kapoor does, I explore meaningful ways to create sculptures based on the properties of the materials I chose when carving both the inside and outside of the forms. In addition to Kapoors’ hollowing out of forms, I studied how he rounds his sculptures. I researched his sculptures Kilkenny Limestone Untitled 1994-1995 at the Museum de Pont in the Netherlands and 2001 Untitled Marble Sculpture at the Barbara Gladstone gallery in New York. On another level, my forms share similarities with the work of Kenneth Price. My sculptures started out as drawings just like Price’s 2010 “blob” sculptures. Price exhibits his sculptures as installations on eye level white pedestals. Both of our approaches to sculpture involve a free-form technique. Price’s sculptures are biomorphic and resemble slugs and feet, whereas my works look like severely devastated rocks. In response to this quality, I install my sculptures on low white pedestals.
Installation Objective and Process
My installation is comprised of fifteen sculptures, or rock forms. Most embrace abstraction, but some of them retain figurative qualities. I created the rock forms one at a time. My placement and position of each of the sculptures is critical. I carved each form and applied the resin mixed with twigs, leaves, and a variety of media with this in mind. During the process of making these rock forms, I constantly rotated and moved the rocks into different combinations and positions. My rock forms are mostly monochromatic and dark. The initial layers of resin include blue, violet, gray, orange, red and green. I applied blacks and browns on the top layers. I sprinkled some of the rock forms with brown and black flocking as a final treatment. This entire process, including my decision to insert and pierce some of the Styrofoam forms with small tree branches, makes these rocks appear perfectly ravaged.
While making these individual forms, I kept the idea of installation in mind because I wanted it to tell a story. Placing the sculptures on low white pedestals keeps them closer to the ground and beckons viewers to consider their devastation.
The path I took was not easy and has become as important as the artwork itself. All of my sketches, as well as the mixed media and textural painting studies are an integral part of this project.
This thesis project functions as my commentary about mankind’s daily devastation to the environment. My inspiration comes from what I see when I am hiking and mountain biking and from historical accounts of industrial polluters and their impact on the biosphere and individual communities. My work invites viewers to consider the relationship between humans and the environment and to think about the catastrophic consequences when people exploit the planet. My work aims to encourage responsible dialog by connecting natural and man-made environments.