New images illustrate populations forced to move

As the warming climate changes our planet in unexpected ways, there will be populations forced to move. Some migrations will be due to the ocean rising and reclaiming everything from beachfront property to island nations. Some people will be forced to move north as the heat simply makes living unbearable. Other populations will be on the move, as their food production decreases, due to the desertification of once fertile land.

Desertification is the process by which dry, but usable areas, are transformed into a desert. Desertification is not a new phenomenon, having in the past been precipitated by overgrazing and land exhaustion due to poor farming techniques. But one of the major causes of desertification in the 20th-21st centuries is probably climate change. Global warming foments the droughts and forest fires which degrade fertile land. When productive farming areas dry up, people move from rural to urban centers. These migrations into the cities often cause large numbers of unemployed people.

For these digital collages, I used photography from my travels and closer to home, to depict various global environments. In addition, I was recently able to photograph groups of people that I used as silhouettes and patterns, to illustrate the experience of population upheaval.

populations forced to move
© Betty Butler, Searching for Food, 2019

Daffodils and warming oceans

Temperature Rising, Betty Butler, Digital collage, 2017

Yes, we in the Midwest U.S. are looking forward to the lifting of this long cold winter. In anticipation of spring, I am posting a photograph of beautiful daffodils that will be blooming soon.

In spite of a cold start to March 2019, the Journal of Advances in Atmospheric Sciences reports that 2018 was the hottest year on record for the oceans. They state that this warming is due to human activity. Of course, warming oceans mean shrinking polar ice, rising sea levels, and coastal flooding.

photograph of daffodils

Daffodils will be blooming soon.

Temperature Rising (top) is a visual commentary on global warming. I wrote in a blog for Artists and Climate Change that for me, “this image became an amalgamation of earth and sun, with the sun clearly encroaching on the available space. I started with a photograph of waves in the cobalt-blue Gulf of Mexico. With a photo-manipulation program, I inverted the ocean, and it stunningly became a bright yellow-gold. Inversion is the equivalent to reversing a color photograph to that of a negative. I found it interesting that the yellow-orange area bears some resemblance to sunspots and the bright areas (faculae) that surround them.

As an artist, I am fascinated with the patterns repeated in nature, from the spots on seashells, to similar spots on leopards. The photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of newly forming stars in the ‘Pillars of Creation’ could be mistaken for exaggerated cumulonimbus clouds that accompany earthly thunderstorms. If these visual patterns are connected, aren’t all creatures and systems similarly bonded and worthy of concern?”

Getting back to our weariness of winter, when the daffodils do bloom, I hope you enjoy them. I know I will.

Warm colors for cold days

As the temperatures plunge and the snow falls, allow these new beach collages to take you to a pleasant warm place. In your imagination, this is a place where you can walk along a beautiful, fanciful beach, where starfish, sea urchins, seashells and bright colors populate the path. Imagine yourself dipping your toes in the warm, inviting sand while feeling a refreshing ocean breeze.

I hope these images give you a slight reprieve from winter’s reign.

The starfish are back

I have used starfish (sea stars) in my digital collages on and off for almost five years to create these imagined beaches. Coincidentally, it was five years ago that the stars began to suffer a massive die-off on California’s coast. Scientists now believe that the cause was multi-factored, including warmer waters and a virus.

But the starfish are coming back!  Scientists have recently observed young sea stars flourishing on the coasts. A new study compared DNA of sea stars from before and after the outbreak and found the juveniles who are succeeding in coastal ecosystems today share a gene that resists the virus, suggesting that the virus catalyzed a process of natural selection. Score one for the environment.

Flowers shine a light on energy concerns

This new image visually contrasts flowers and the aging technology of the electrical grid. These flowers, although thin and wiry like the transmission lines, are animated and lively. By comparison, the towers appear to be an ancient construct. As the window for preventing dramatic climate warming closes, the energy transmitted through the grid continues to be produced by a 63% blend of fossil fuel and nuclear, rather than environmentally friendly renewable sources.

The electric grid in its current state brings to mind the over year-long recovery of Puerto Rico from the destruction of category five Hurricane Maria. The island grid was almost totally destroyed. The power has not yet been restored to all of its citizens. Puerto Rico, vulnerable to storms, is also rich in renewable sources such as wind, solar, water, and biomass. Still, with our current laws, FEMA is required to restore power to match the destroyed system exactly as it was.  And so, the government is currently rebuilding the grid without updates. Tall towers are being built in inaccessible areas such as mountain tops in favor of more manageable local grids fueled by solar or wind. In addition, the importing of expensive fossil fuel needs to continue.

In spite of these FEMA requirements, philanthropists and private companies have come in to help. They donated roof-top solar systems, which form small renewable grids. This technology has helped some neighborhoods regain their electricity. While Puerto Rico’s energy problems and recovery are an extreme example of lack of economic and environmental foresight, I hope that we as a nation can learn from these missteps.

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