Do seahorses have horsepower?

Seahorses are magical fish that seemingly float up and down, back and forth, and gracefully twist and tumble through their watery world. These dancers of the sea achieve their swimming power from one constantly moving dorsal fin.

On a visit to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois, I observed these social creatures swimming in pairs. They gathered in groups, using their curly tails to cling to sea grass. Did you know that the male of the species carries the babies during gestation?

These beautiful creatures served as an inspiration for my latest digital collages. In the first print, I silhouetted the seahorses and then filled them with cars, packed in traffic. The name of the work, Horsepower, is a play on words between our vehicles, their carbon emissions, and the affected seahorses.

Like all marine life, seahorses are experiencing changes brought about by our warming planet. Much of the atmosphere’s heat and carbon dioxide are absorbed by the ocean like a sponge. Therefore, the climbing temperature is eroding their shallow tropical water habitat of sea grass and coral. In addition, excess carbon contributes to ocean acidification, which causes their bony structure to lose strength. Other hazards include: getting caught in fishing gear and being harvested for traditional medicine and souvenirs.

Celebrating marine life

sea horses
Betty Butler, Colorful Seahorses, 2018

In order to celebrate seahorses and all aquatic life, I was moved to create a companion art print that was fun and colorful. It uses many of the same graphic elements as the first digital collage. Rather than cars, I filled the silhouetted animals with bright colors. In a bit of good news, Starbucks and McDonald’s are intending to switch from single-use plastic to paper straws by 2020. This is because of consumer demand. It feels good to know that the public can make a difference to reduce the tide of our environmental problems.

Exploring the nature of red white and blue

As Memorial Day and the Fourth of July approaches, I would like to explore the color palette of red white and blue. In addition to being a patriotic theme, I have used this palette in the two prints that I am featuring today. Often times, blue refers to themes of water, as it does in Ocean Disruption (above). Wintry Tulips (below) utilizes the color to express season and mood. In the first piece, the red is mostly used for contrast, and in the second, it portrays the natural, spring-like color of the flowers. White appears as either waves or snow, in the two prints.

Ocean Disruption, the winner of two awards in 2017, contains recognizable photographs of ocean waves, and although one can clearly see the ocean black-drop, there is pattern and texture, as well as pure chaos.  The title refers to human influences that have disrupted our oceans with garbage: namely the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is one of several patches, swirling on each ocean, on huge rotating oceanic currents. The garbage, mostly plastic, does not disintegrate, and only breaks down no smaller than microplastics. These are then eaten by fish, birds and marine mammals, either killing them or allowing the plastic chemicals to travel higher into the food chain. A recent study, reported in National Geographic Magazine, has shown that much of the plastic consists of abandoned fishing nets, ropes and baskets. This fishing gear injures or kills innumerable marine animals every year.

On the brighter side, several organizations are working to monitor and pull the trash from the ocean.

Surreal blue tulips

red white and blue
© Betty Butler, Wintry Tulips, 2013

Wintry Tulips (above) is part of a series entitled Seasons.  This series invites the viewer to take a nontraditional voyage through the four seasons. In it, I hope to share my joy and contemplation of seasonal changes, and their analogies to the human experience. This print seems to be in the process of morphing from winter to spring. I have turned some of the tulips in a horizontal direction and transformed them into a bracing royal blue. They are shooting across a bleak scene of white snow and barren trees. Only fragments of the natural red tulips remain, suggesting that spring once existed, or will exist again.

In reality, spring’s warmth and blooming flowers have actually arrived. Enjoy the season! 

The universe in a flower

The sight of cone flowers is common in the Midwest, but I never really saw their essence until an October afternoon in Door County Wisconsin. I was taken by their autumnal presence – void of vibrant color, yet tall, with prominent, round, spiky heads. Photographs of these skeletal flowers would become subject matter for some of my digital collages.

 
Digital collage of photography
© Betty Butler Purple Oak, 2012

For my latest collage, Ocean Flower, (top) I have silhouetted the flowers and filled them with the colorful blues and greens of sky, water and botanical life. Finally, I added photographic hints of ocean waves. The ocean within a flower brings to mind the water cycle: a process through which water and water vapor rise from plants and bodies of water, into the atmosphere, and back to earth again in the form of rain or snow.

For me, these flowers, depicted in this way, embody a world or a universe. Besides, these frail flowers, seen at the end of their growing season, contain the seeds – the very life source – for their next generation. We humans are also the guardians of future generations. As the oceans warm and expand, glaciers melt and sea levels rise to engulf coastal regions, we must all concern ourselves with our future world, our universe.

                                                                                                                                         

The fate of flowers and other living things

Who doesn’t appreciate the beauty of flowers? Their bright colors and enchanting scents attract insects and humans alike. The curving lines and multiple patterns of flowers invite me to utilize them as subject matter for my art. Why then, for this new art print, have  I borrowed the title of Pete Seeger’s enduring anti-war anthem, Where have all the Flowers Gone?

In an ironic twist, the meaning for my art is different, but no less dire. Instead of all the flowers finally going to graveyards, my collage portrays tulips fading and being swallowed by the ocean. It also incorporates a severe color palette of pink, black and gray. Therefore, it asks the question, what will happen to the flowers, fields, and coastal cities as the sea rises to claims them?

Two prints win entry into Colorado Environmental Photography Exhibition

art print
©Betty Butler, Throw Away Ocean
art print
©Betty Butler, Coral Grief

I am delighted to be part of the 9th Annual Environmental Photography Exhibition, held in conjunction with the 2018 Colorado Environmental Film Festival in Golden, Colorado. It is a worldwide curated photography exhibition. Like the Film Festival itself, the Photography Exhibition hopes to represent the shared visions of world communities that are concerned about environmental issues.

Opening Reception: February 23, 2018 – 5:30-7:30 PM

 

Worldwide theater, art and climate awareness

theater
Betty and Jeff Butler reading the play Single Use by Marcia Johnson

It was so exciting to participate in Climate Change Theatre Action, a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented October 1 – November 18, 2017 to coincide with the United Nations COP23 meeting. On their informative website, I could rejoice in the 100+ events taking place across the globe at colleges, theater groups and art studios. Although we are not thespians, my husband and I took the plunge and read the play Single Use, by Marcia Johnson, to a small audience in our home.

Theater inspires my art

In addition, Johnson’s play inspired me to create a new art print, Throw Away Ocean (top). The play is set during a young couple’s first date. Conflict arises when she, concerned with climate change, won’t use a disposable straw for her milkshake. He on the other hand, doesn’t want to discuss serious issues so early in a relationship. My collage combines ocean photography and assorted photos of straws to visually describe the dangers of ocean plastic pollution.

It was also inspiring to feel the enthusiasm coming from the talented theatrical students of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, on October 22, 2017. In their event, which I was able to attend, they interwove music, performed original plays and those provided by Climate Change Theatre Action. Their final presentation included audience participation and dance. I am encouraged to see all manner of artists, across the globe, bringing fresh perspectives to this pressing issue.

Reflecting on sea, sky and weather

Weather
© Betty Butler, Extreme Weather, Digital Art, 2017

Extreme Weather (above) portrays threatening storm clouds that open, not to the sky, but to the sea. I hope to visually explore the concept that the atmosphere and ocean are inescapably bound together. The grayish-purple boarder with moving dots, could even represent molecules of H2O, transforming from a liquid to a vaporous state, as they rise from bodies of water to the sky. I trust that you will find this image visually satisfying as well as thought provoking.

Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are warming the atmosphere. This increase in temperature results in  higher evaporation rates, which in turn allows more moisture to be absorbed into the atmosphere. Consequently, we are experiencing stronger storms with heavier rainfall amounts.

Although climate change is not the cause of hurricanes, a small increase in the average temperature of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico (which has happened this year) can increase their rainfall and strength. We are sadly reminded of this, as we witness the record braking destructiveness of Harvey and Irma.

Print juried into Koehnline Museum of Art exhibit

weather
© Betty Butler, Coral Grief, Digital collage, 2017

I am honored that Coral Grief (above) has been accepted into the exhibition, “Women and Anger: Resistance, Power and Inspiration” at the Koehnline Museum of Art. The jury was seeking art that made a statement concerning recent push backs in political gains made by and for women, other marginalized groups and the environment. My art print Coral Grief, addresses the environmental challenge posed by the world-wide bleaching and dying of coral reefs.

  • Koehnline Museum of Art, Oakton Community College
  • 1600 East Golf Road, Des Plaines, IL, 60016
  •  Reception: Thursday, September 28 from 5 – 8PM
  •  Exhibit runs through Friday, October 20, 2017

Dipping into the beautiful, fragile ocean

Sea shell beach art
© Betty Butler, Nautilus Beach, digital collage

I hope you are enjoying the lake or ocean beach this summer. Because it’s summer, I am posting the peaceful and softly colored image Nautilus Beach, pictured above. Even if you are not at the beach, I hope this image will take you there on a visual journey.

Coral reefs in peril

ocean abstrasts
© Betty Butler, Coral Grief, Digital collage

While the next image is visually pleasant with blue ocean imagery and fan coral, it also addresses the serious problem of coral bleaching. As I have turned my artistic focus from shells and shores to the ocean itself, I have found artist organizations concerned with climate change. I was fortunate enough to be able to write an article for the blog Artists and Climate Change. In the post I said the following about Coral Grief, pictured above:

Coral reefs thrive within a narrow temperature range. Their fate is being challenged as the oceans absorb much of the heat created by global warming. When coral is stressed, it discharges its algae and becomes white or bleached, and vulnerable to death. A major bleaching event is considered one of the most visual indicators of climate change. This image was produced by layering ocean and coral photography. With photo-manipulation, I was able to portray the coral as bleached. As I searched for an appropriate title, the term coral reef yielded to the reality of ‘coral grief.’

In spite of this reality, I intend to enjoy and celebrate our rivers, lakes and oceans. I will fight for their health as well.   

 

 

Playful ocean art talks about climate change

ocean digital collage
Acidic Ocean, Betty Butler, Digital collage, 2017

From an emotional perspective, water can symbolize longing, as in being separated by large spans of ocean. It is a life force, stormy and threatening, as well as calming  and beautiful. From a scientific point of view, the oceans cover 70% of earth’s surface and contain roughly 97% of its water. The oceans supply much of the earth’s food and most of its oxygen through a population of tiny plants.

From an artistic point of view, I am moved to create work about water. In the image above, I layered ocean photography with playfully colored, digitally painted circles, which could suggest bubbles of gas dissolving in water. 

Saving our oceans

Sea water is slightly base as opposed to acidic. As man-made CO2 increases in the atmosphere, it is eventually deposited and dissolved in the ocean. It then skews the water toward a more acidic reading in a process called ocean acidification. As a result, shell-forming animals including corals, oysters, shrimp, lobster, many planktonic organisms, and even some fish species could be gravely affected.

While climate change is an urgent issue, time has not run out for action. Here is a list of ten things each of us can do to save the oceans. I plan to take as many of these actions as I can.