Unbelievable 2020

(c) Betty Butler Escape Plan, Digital Collage, 2020

Unbelievable 2020. This year we witnessed more than 200,000 deaths in the United States resulting from COVID-19. We also experienced police violence, protest and civil unrest, the worst California wildfires on record, and a president attempting to win an election with lies, deceit, and probable chaos yet to come.

Of course, my art has been influenced by some of these events. Escape Plan (above) started as a high contrast photograph of a street scene in NYC (from my time at The Cooper Union School of Art, 1973.)  The street, probably an alleyway, shows buildings with fire-escapes and barbed wire smack down the middle. Then I added silhouettes of people, the virus, and digital painting. The fire escape in the image alludes to a hopeful escape plan from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Of course, at this moment, there is none in sight, except for the practical measures of social distancing and mask-wearing. The president lies (or down-plays) the truth of COVID-19, so his base is reluctant to put these measures into place. Remarkably, mask-wearing has become politicized. In this image, there are only people traumatized by the barbed wire and looming disease.

California Fires

(c) Betty Butler, Fire Escape, Digital Collage, 2020

I created Escaping the Fire as a reaction to the devastating Australian fires of 2019-2020. Yet, the devastation continues in the western United States. Roughly 100 million acres of land have burned, making 2020 the largest wildfire season in California’s history. The intensity of the fires has been increased by drying and heating from human-induced climate change.[5][6]

With all of these dire events upon us, I still believe we will come out more resilient and creative on the other side.

Berlin exhibition March 2020

Berlin art exhit March 2020
(c) Betty Butler, Through the Desert, Digital Collage, 2019

I am honored that my print, Through the Desert (above), is included in the exhibition, i am. an immigrant., slated for March 2020 at The Institut fur Alles Mogliche, (The Institute for Everything), Berlin, Germany. Sixteen artists from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Canada, Berlin, Amsterdam, Israel, and Romania will explore the demographic changes that affect global and local politics, economies, and day to day life. History forewarns what can happen when hate, fear, and a sense of threat grows between people coming from different cultures, who now share space. This group exhibition is a place to explore these clashes of culture. Although, Through the Desert, is from my climate change series, droughts, floods, and fires are clearly contributing to the issue human migration.

For the Love of Art II, Dallas, Texas

Art of the Seasons

Gladioli Drawing I, 2019 (left), has been selected for the online exhibition, FOR THE LOVE OF ART II, Envision Arts, Dallas, Texas, on display through February 29, 2020. In addition to Americans, artists from Norway, Taiwan, Poland, United Kingdom, Portugal, Japan, and Greece are included. The jurors were seeking images regarding love and relationships, as well as the color red.

January gladioli surprise

Gladioli
(c) Betty Butler, Winter Gladioli, Digital Collage Print, 2019

I started Winter Gladioli (above) with photographs taken last August 2019. Then, I brought these flowers straight into January of 2020 by overlaying them with bare trees and muting parts of their bright red-pink color to white and gray.   Immediately, it appeared like the gladioli were part of a snowy scene.  Similarly, our climate has been unrecognizable in many ways across the globe. From massive fires in Australia to continuing ice melts in the Arctic, 2019 alone has seen unprecedented climate changes. These are the kinds of surprises, I for one, do not like to see.

Yet, I do enjoy using gladioli as subject matter purely for its beauty. I appreciate the gladiolus for its bright colors and succession of organic shapes. Here are some interesting facts about them. For instance, because of their long, pointed shape, they are named after the Latin word “gladius,” meaning sword. In Rome, gladioli were associated with gladiators. Gladioli are related to the iris family and originated in South Africa, finally coming to America in the late 18th century. 

Gladioli

I appreciate the gladiolus for its bright colors and succession of organic shapes.

Berlin exhibition in March 2020

I am honored to be included in an exhibition this March in Berlin, Germany, entitled, i am. an immigrant. The exhibit was curated by Dorit Jordan Dotan, artist in resident, Institut fur Alles Mogliche (Institute for Everything.) The exhibit explores demographic changes that affect global and local politics, economies, and day to day life. History forewarns what can happen when hate and fear grows among people coming from different cultures, who now share the same space. This group exhibition is a place to explore these clashes of culture. More info will be forthcoming.

Gladioli
© Betty Butler,Through the Desert, Digital Collage Print, 2019

Print juried into Pennsylvania photography exhibit

Print juried into Pennsylvania Center for Photography exhibit
Throw Away Ocean, Digital Collage Art print, 2017

I am honored to have been juried into a photography exhibit at the Pennsylvania Center for Photography, in Doylestown PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. The exhibit, November 1 – 17, 2019, was entitled Transformations. Throwaway Ocean (above) was included in the section called “Unlimited Exhibition.” This means that an artist was allowed to employ any type of digital process imaginable.

Freaky Halloween snowstorm!

Print wins entry into photography exhibit
Betty Butler, Polar Vortex, Digital Collage, 2019

Halloween really was scary in Chicago this year, but not because the children were disguised as monsters and goblins. It was frightening to observe so few of the trick-or-treaters out and about due to an early snowstorm. The leaves still clung to their branches, even as white powder clung to them. By Veterans Day November 11, it snowed again, and Arctic cold surged as far south as Florida. Yes, our climate is changing, but on the other hand, not randomly.

A study in Nature Communications, March 13, 2018, reported that warm arctic episodes are linked with increased frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States. This happened last winter when, in late January 2019, a severe cold wave hit the Midwestern United States.

Polar Vortex (above) is part of my series that illustrates stronger climate events, such as floods, drought, and, blizzards. These, can bring havoc upon our way of life.

The art of buying Greenland

Greenland digital art
© Betty Butler, Global Effect, Digital Collage, 2017

Greenland has been in the news quite a bit lately. After Europe’s heatwave of 2019 spread north, Greenland’s ice sheet experienced a significant melting event. The result was that much of the island’s ice has turned to slush. As rivers of water pour into the ocean, a NASA Study predicts more long-term sea-level rise from Greenland ice. Then curiously, our President decided it would be an excellent time to broker a deal with Denmark to buy its autonomous territory of Greenland. Of course, the Danish Prime Minister declared the idea absurd.

Could anything be more ludicrous? Could our planet be in any more danger?

Global Effect (above) is abstract, but in some ways, it reminds me of the shapes on a world atlas. This digital collage is composed of manipulated photos from the ocean, beach, and one of my paintings. These images of earth and its patterns bring together my appreciation of nature and on-going concern with climate change as a global problem.   

New work accepted into Palm Springs gallery

Greenland ice melting
© Betty Butler, Searching for Food, Digital Collage, 2019

 I was honored to be accepted as an Exhibition Finalist in a show entitled Lines, Shapes & Objects. The gallery, named Fusion Art, is located in Palm Springs, California.  It is a brick and mortar, as well as an online gallery. The accepted work, Searching For Food (above) is part of my current series on nature and climate change. The exhibit was online through August 10, 2019.

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.