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Art, Plastic and the Environment...

If you are environmentally conscious like me, you are probably feeling a little guilty right now, with all the heightened awareness in the press about plastics.  Something which hasn’t received the same level of coverage, but is still an issue is Acrylic paint; many artists, students and amateurs happily wash this water-soluble paint down the sink, but… it is still a plastic.  As many of you know, I’m not that overly keen on acrylic paint and I use oil or watercolour.  Does this absolve me of guilt, you may think? Sadly not, because watercolours still need brushes cleaned out and good quality paints contain elements such as Cadmium (this was going to be banned by the EU), which is bad for both our health and the environment.  Pastel artists can’t feel smug either I’m afraid, as these can also contain harmful pigments, which is washed from hands and enters the sewage system.  Oil paint is even worse for the environment, as you need to clean out brushes in turpentine or white spirit, and I diligently save up all my “dirty” white spirit in an old (sorry) plastic container and take it to the local municipal waste site for the appropriate disposal.  Last time I did this I took my toxic waste to the attendant and I was horrified to find that I was told just to throw it into the household waste skip which will go to landfill.  Surely that will eventually leak out into the ground where it is buried?  I thought the whole point of taking it to be disposed of properly meant that it wouldn’t be able to link leak into the ground? 

The purpose of this post is not about how non-environmentally friendly art can be, because I know many artists who strive to environmentally neutral or friendly, even when it is exceptionally hard to achieve.  My point is whatever industry you work in, whatever you do in your daily life, we could all do better and any small changes we can make will help the environment.  There will also be a lot of problems, wasteful things we do that we cannot resolve, but hopefully we will be mindful about things we can change.  For example, a friend told me the other day about someone they knew drove 45 minutes to go and purchase herbs and spices from a store that sold them loosely, so that they could fill their own containers without purchasing in plastic bags.  It took me only a few seconds to enquire the type of car that they drove, and if they had considered this implication?  Their idea may have good intentions with regards to plastics as waste, however, it didn’t resolve the issue that they had driven several miles in a petrol car polluting the local air.  Sadly, I don’t think this person had chosen the best of the two evils.  So why are we in this position where whatever we do potentially harms the environment?   I think it is a combination of economics and us not being mindful of our actions as a human race.  No individual industry or person is completely to blame, but collectively we all are.

Thirty years ago, I used to subscribe to the RSPCA magazine and like most children I was all consumed about the welfare of animals.  To be fair, this feeling hasn’t changed much, except now I am more conscious of the ecosystem and helping the less attractive animals and insects that are ignored but vital too.  Back in the 80s, I remember many campaigners trying to get the plastic rings that keep a set of 4 cans together banned, because they were causing both animals and birds to be caught or horrifically strangled by them.  That was THIRTY years ago, but we all still go into the supermarket and buy fizzy drinks cans with these plastic nooses.  This was before we knew that plastics were contaminating the food and water that the human race is consuming.  Now that this has become known, there has been a swelling of pressure on social media to stop using plastics.  So why now?  They have been damaging our environment for the last 40 or more years, which we have KNOWN about?  It feels to me that this is all a bit too little too late, and there is now only overwhelming concern because it is now definitely known to be affecting our food and water chains and impacting upon us directly.  My feeling to all this, is we need to ALL be aware of the impact on the nature surrounding us whether large or small; should we not attempt to make as little impact as possible?

I once went to someone’s home to where the deer were eating the flowers in the garden and the child there asked their parent and me why were the nasty deer ruining the garden?  I was a little riled by this question, and answered before the parent could, that perhaps the deer were wondering over this land before the house had been built there and in fact it had been built in the middle of their home?  Hmm, I must try and learn to keep those controversial thoughts to myself!

I haven’t seen yet any posts on social media of pressurising people to stop using clothing made from plastics such as acrylic jumpers, because when these are washed they release small particles and fibres into the waste water system.  Every aspect of our lives impacts on the environment around us, we seem to have evolved into a consumerist society that does not think about our actions and think that we are somehow apart from nature.  We are a PART of nature and we need to learn how we can live in harmony and not pollute it.  We need to do this when we are aware of the impact we are making, not forty years after the realisation!  My intention is not to increase blame or guilt, but to make us all realise that we are a part of the problem, and it isn’t the manufacturers fault for packaging everything in plastic, it is ours for letting it happen for so long.  Humanity as a whole needs to change it psyche, so there are more environmentally friendly options on the market; from artists materials to selling alternatives to cans with their current plastic nooses!  Each person needs to be aware of their surroundings and think about the consequences of their actions to killing a fly or wasp trapped in their home to washing their clothing, don’t just get swept away by the latest social media campaign, because that is barely scratching the surface of the problem…

Humanity is a part of nature and their environment and we are just as vulnerable as other species to disease and climate change.  We need to lessen our impact upon our surroundings and be more thoughtful, before it is too late.  This is what I have in mind when I started creating my new series of work called “Secrets of Nature”.  The secret is…. Us!  I don’t feel that many think of humanity when they see the British landscape.  They marvel at the beauty of nature, but most of the British landscape has been crafted by man.  It is no secret that I love the South Downs, and I feel truly free when I walk over the hills, but these hills have been farmed for centuries.  There are paths where our ancestors have walked and there is evidence of ancient man using these hills.  These same hills that I enjoy recreationally.  I am privileged compared to those who walked the South Downs centuries ago, I do not have to go out and find my supper – I have a freezer and an oven, and I spend my day painting and writing blogs such as this one.  Man, long ago, knew he was a part of nature because the natural environment affected his everyday living.  We need to be reminded of that.  My first painting in the series at first glance is of the landscape, that beautiful rolling landscape which makes me feel so free; and camouflaged into this, in the foreground, are Irises.  But not all of them are simply Irises they are of man too…. Hopefully he isn’t obvious at first glance, and I was thrilled, when a colleague was shocked when I mentioned there was a person in the picture which they simply hadn’t seen.  

secrets of nature oil painting secrets of nature close up oil painting

This year I am working on this series further and am very excited to paint further ideas combining man with nature.  I want to create art that is both beautiful but also has a serious message, I hope you enjoy viewing my paintings as much as I love creating them.

Message me directly if you would like to know more about this art work by emailing me art@claire-harrison.co.uk

May 2018

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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