Wednesday, July 25, 2007

United Nations Environmental Programme Project

Whenever I have grown as an artist, it occurs through my love of projects that take me beyond my private world of painting and into the "real" world of people places and ideas.

I once attended a professional art seminar (given by a wonderful painter) where an audience member asked the speaker how she responded to the news and events that plagued the earth. The artist broke into a smile and cooed, "Painting is enough". It was a feel-good answer that allowed most of the audience to breathe a sigh of relief. We had just been given permission to lock our studio doors and quietly devote our energies to the filling up of square white canvases. To me this answer was impossible to digest. I began to squirm in my seat and somehow refrained from grabbing the microphone to launch into a heart-pounding plea that my fellow creative souls believe in their innate power to affect humanity using all of their inclinations, and then act in any way necessary, whether it involved paint or not, to implement that power.

The most inspiring artists I am meeting these days are able to erase that boundary which separates the artists' craft from functionality in the general society, or neighborhood. The involvement with people and ideas is what keeps art and artists relevant.

Since March I have been involved with an art project that has unfolded like an adventure in creativity, challenging my flexibility and vision.

Art educator Teresa Langness from the organization "Full Circle learning" called to invite me to design an art project for Los Angeles youth which would be part of the United Nations Environmental Programmes' World Environmental Exhibition, to be held at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo Norway.

My first impulse was to consider graphic design and printing as the appropriate direction.

I proposed that large panels relating to environmental concerns be the end result, with each participating artist creating smaller block prints which would cover the surface of each panel.
The project would be called "Peace Prints".

A group of really amazing youths from Los Angeles were gathered to participate and we met in Topanga, ( a forested canyon community near the pacific ocean) to begin the process of choosing subject matter. Topanga was a kind of uncharted hippie enclave during the 1960s, and remains a haven for activists who grew up and continue to play a role in social programs around the world.

The participating artists are in their teens, and are growing up believing in their ability to bring peace and positive change to the world. Through their involvement with Full Circle Learning, they have engaged in many activities that bring them great understanding about how people can impact their families, their communities and the environment. Their economic ethnic and educational backgrounds vary, but they are united in their goals and actions. It is immensely satisfying to work with young people- especially when they inspire so much confidence and hope. After introductions and discussions about the possibilities of the project, we decide to focus on creating the first panel: a life-sized polar bear, which will be covered with individual prints of animal life affected by environmental change. Since the theme of the United Nations Environmental Programme's exhibition is: "Melting ice- A Hot Topic", the polar bear links well as a graphic symbol of polar change.

After visualization of the many components, artists begin sketching and drawing their ideas.
All the while, we discuss the history and nature of printing. As one of the worlds most respected art forms, printing became a primary means of communication with the advent of books. Furthermore, printing has been linked with the creation of political imagery, conveying ideas of social reform and public protest.

The printing process we use for the "Peace Prints" project involves artist's foam blocks. The process of using foam as a surface in which a drawing is etched is obviously a contemporary answer to the time-consuming ancient process of carving into wood or linoleum to create block prints. Foam blocks are simply soft surfaces specially prepared to accept bold and extremely delicate marks, drawn into the surface with the aid of a stick, ex-acto blade or even a common pencil.

To quote artist Rico lebrun: "I would rather proceed at a gallop than stop and freeze in favor of a crafty move..."

Once drawings are completed on paper, they are transferred by hand into a block of printing foam. The artist then redraws their lines into the surface, which is in turn coated with printing ink. Artists learn how to handle a roller, and become adept in the nuances of ink application.

I demonstrate the technique of thinning out the ink evenly. The process of printing is fun and very very...messy!

Each artist's individual voice is easily transfered into the foam, and regardless of their skill level, they all produce really engaging images.

Here is a block print featuring a portrait of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Mathei.
One aspect of the project involves honoring Peace Prize winners and examining how global climate change impacts their home countries.

Block prints are prepared for mass application onto the larger panels.

Applying the ink-covered block prints onto the surface requires pressure with the roller...and patience. The surface is heavy cardboard, a recyclable material transformed into art.

The Polar Bear comes to life first, and depicts animal life impacted by changes in arctic and antarctic regions.

The Sun becomes the omni-present symbol of global unity and life. Each artist creates their own as a sort of signature. The first of many panels is completed.

I stand (In the center) with some of the other artist-participants. The expanding project continues on...