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.

Two crises collide, “I Can’t Breathe”

I can't breathe
(c) Betty Butler, I Can’t Breath, Digital Painting, 2020

Ideas for I Can’t Breathe (above) came to me as I heard George Floyd’s last words, which echoed the words of seriously ill and dying COVID-19 patients. Visually, I envisioned unwarranted police violence, multiplying virus particles, facial masks, and a general sense of chaos.

In Minneapolis, MN, Memorial Day, May 25, 2020, four police officers snuffed out a black man’s life. Two days later, on May 27, the US reached a death toll of 100,000 persons from COVID-19. Concurrently, young people, black, white, and brown (mostly wearing masks), took to the streets protesting for justice. Finally, protests continued, until one, then the other three officers were charged with some degree of murder. The President could not help himself but make things worse. He ordered the United States military to tear gas a peaceful crowd of protesters in DC, so he could walk to a nearby church and hold up a bible (upside down) for a photo-op. The nation-wide and world-wide protests continue.

COVID-19 continues to spread

US states have reopened their businesses at different rates. Meanwhile, since Memorial Day, there has been a spike in virus spread and hospitalizations in some states. Let’s hope for a more unified approach to social distancing, mask-wearing, and testing in the future.

Exhibition in the Canary Islands, Spain

I was honored to have three of my prints juried into an international exhibition entitled Lost at Lacuna Festivals, Canary Islands, Spain. The theme could include lost culture, language, and traditions. My three chosen works referenced the Australian fires of 2019-2020, and the loss of life and environment. Then the curators informed the artists that the exhibition Lost was almost lost because of the pandemic. Soon, they found a solution and asked the artists for permission to show their work in an online festival.

The Lacuna Festivals will take place online from June 26 – July 31, 2020.

I can't breathe
(c) Betty Butler, Australian Fires, Digital Collage, 2020
(c) Betty Butler, Kangaroo Escape, Digital Collage, 2020
I can't breathe
(c) Betty Butler, Escaping the Fire, Digital Collage, 2020

COVID-19 and the Australian fires

Australian Fires
(c) Betty Butler, Kangaroo Escape, Digital Collage, 2020
Australian Fires
(c) Betty Butler, Escaping the Fire, Digital Collage, 2020

It is hard to believe that it was only in January of this year that the world finally took notice of the 2019-2020 Australian fires. They had been devastating to the country’s environment and tragically caused human deaths and homelessness. However, the situation also pulled at our heartstrings. The world has witnessed the burning and suffering of Australia’s beautiful and rare animals. Scientists estimate one billion have died. In January, I was moved to create these digital collages relating to the inferno’s effect on human and animal life.

A hotter planet

Yet, by March, the world had turned its attention to a crisis that no one could ignore, the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the two catastrophes could be related by one glaring issue: global warming. Recent studies have confirmed that Australia’s wildfires have now been linked to climate change. Drought and Climate-influenced temperatures raised the wildfire risk by 30 percent.

Concerning the Corona Virus, of course, modern travel can quickly spread a pandemic from continent to continent. Moreover, pandemics like this are expected to rise as the climate changes. Illnesses carried by mosquitoes, ticks, and other animals, will likely increase on a hotter planet. In addition, when humans cramp and stress animals in tight cages, a viral crossover from species to species can occur. This is especially true in wet markets, which create a toxic mix of animal fluids and human beings. These viruses may have been coexisting within the animal species for many years, but people carry no immunity to them.

It seems like the global community is learning painfully, not to wait too long to address a problem like a pandemic. We are seeing how quickly illness and death can mount up in a short amount of time. I hope our world community can learn from this and take corrective steps for our climate NOW. A tipping point for the earth could come sooner than we think.

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.

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.

Prints juried into NYC exhibit

prints accepted into NYC exhibitI am honored to have two of my digital collage prints accepted into Unnatural Selection, an exhibition highlighting species endangered by human activity. This happens as a result of over-harvesting, pollution, habitat destruction, exotic animal trade and trophy hunting, among other influences.

Unnatural Selection

Long Island City Artists LIC/A The Plaxall Gallery, 5-25 46th Ave., Queens, NY 11101, Opening Reception: Saturday, September 8th, 7-10 PM, On View: August 30th – September 30th, 2018

Horsepower (below) is one of the accepted prints, and I described it in my last post. “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 seagrass 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.

sea horse prints
©Betty Butler, Horsepower, 2018

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 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