Many years ago I visited a magical place in northern California called the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center. It was founded in the 70’s as a think tank for environmental innovation (cum heirloom seed bank) and one of its founding directives was to promote the arts as a means for exploring the natural world and visioning a sustainable future for humankind in which prosperity and environmental conservation live side by side.
One of the co-founders of the Center is artist Adam Wolpert who to this day lives and teaches on the campus. I recently attended a spectacular one-man show at Look Gallery in Los Angeles featuring his latest series of untitled oil on linen/board paintings and photographed several of the pieces.
Looking back on these paintings tonight I am reminded of the power of art to communicate things that words can’t. If you’ve been following my blog recently, you’ll know I am in something of an all-out war with the beast known as the climate change denial industry.
Attempting to engage in a dialog about the climate, as currently framed by corporate-funded hate groups, has become something of an exercise in futility. Any semblance of logic or reason is drowned out by a chorus of tautological rants.
During times like this, art becomes an important means of expressing the things we are not able to say. And Adam’s new body of work is the first I’ve seen to tackle climate.
Like a modern day Turner, Wolpert addresses the boundary between industrial civilization and nature. But here the landscapes are not to be conquered. They are powerful, mysterious, unpredictable and very, very dangerous – stormy clouds swirling into forms that evoke the famous satellite imagery of Katrina. Standing in front of these majestic pieces you get a glimpse into the eye of a beast much more terrifying than the Heartland Institute -- a beast in the throws of a climactic fever.
In encountering Wolpert’s paintings, art critic Peter Frank asked this important question (published exclusively here with his permission):
"Can art, symbolically or concretely contribute to what we do to preserve the nature we know?
It can… precisely because it is the least natural of phenomena. Art is humankind’s way of reflecting upon its unique presence on the face of the earth, and a way of sensing where on earth we stand.
Nature doesn’t give a rap whether we’re here or not or whether we’re comfortable or not. And if we effect nature so that it becomes less hospitable that’s not nature’s problem it’s ours.
Likewise nature doesn’t give a rap about art, we do. So if the problem about how to live on this earth is uniquely human then art – the uniquely human activity – is the best way to speak of the problem."
It reminds us of what we have...and what we stand to lose. IT also reminds us that nature is bigger than us.
Think about it: In Wolpert’s paintings, the conjurations of clouds and storms and furious infinities speak of natural calamity better than all the documentation of rainforest depletion or wetland erosion can.
That documentation is crucial in making repairs, but the only things that really drive home the bad news are artworks and natural disasters. As the occurrence of the latter means that the worst is on its way, let’s stick with art.
- Karl Burkart
See more of Wolpert's new work on his site.
Pictured above: Untitled #10, 2009 (detail)