On The Brink: Artist Interviews

dot-art speaks with the artists of On The Brink exhibition at dot-art Gallery.

On The Brink brings together work from 7 dot-art artists with a focus on climate change and species loss here in the UK.

This exhibition was initially an idea from Chris Routledge who started working on a series of cyanotype prints titled ‘Say Goodbye to the Larches’.

Routledge describes the series – “I began my Say Goodbye to the Larches project, five pieces from which are part of the On the Brink exhibition, when I noticed larches being felled in the Lake District. I spend a lot of time photographing woodland, and I was already aware of how ash trees were struggling with dieback, and how Phytophthora Ramorum was spreading through the larch.

Larch is a non-native species, and mostly a plantation tree in the UK, so conservationists are not too concerned about losing the tree itself, but its large numbers mean that the felling will leave the landscape radically changed. And what the loss of the larch and the ash represent is a more widespread loss, from the destruction of habitat through pollution, overdevelopment, and woodland clearance, to the spread of disease through the global plant trade, and our warming climate. “Ramorum” as it is known, puts many other species of tree at risk, so the felling of the larch is necessary, but it is also a warning sign of things to come.

The five studies in the On the Brink exhibition are cyanotype prints augmented with orange paint. Climate change and species loss are both abstract ideas that are difficult to photograph. When things change slowly we get used to the change and don’t notice it any more. Winters become warmer and wetter, and soon that’s what winter is like; we don’t see so many birds around, and that’s just how it is. The abstracted realism of cyanotype printing helps us look more directly by moving away from the world as we see it every day. I decided to add the orange paint, the colour of the paint sprayed on trees to indicate which are to be felled, and the colour of the fresh sap from cut trees, to make this abstraction even more dramatic.

These On the Brink pieces are the first time I have gone beyond lens-based work to explore climate and biodiversity issues directly. If they do nothing else I hope they will encourage more looking at what is going on in the natural world we live in.”

As Routledge described, there is a bacterial disease spreading through the Larches and other tree species in the UK, Claire Western delved into this in her acrylic and charcoal work on canvas, Lesson of Loss.

Western expands on her piece – “Lesson of Loss is a diptych painting influenced by the disease Phytophthora Ramorum which is responsible for the major decline in Larch trees around the UK. I wanted my painting to almost tell a journey of the disease by playing with opacity and form. I have always been inspired by landscapes whether that is on a large scale or microscopic and felt my style of painting was ideal to portray this devastating disease.

I didn’t want the piece to be too obvious to the viewer so it retains an ambiguity in it’s interpretation. However, I think while it is very abstract you can still feel a toxic consuming quality through the colours. The lurid oranges and reds coupled with the extremely matt black give a heavy feeling to the composition. Creating this ‘feeling’ was important as I wanted to give the viewer a sense of decay, maybe even despair.

My other works have mostly been bright and full of colours, so I really enjoyed working with this particular colour palette. It gave me an opportunity to push out of my comfort zone as an artist, while also conveying a message about species loss, especially at such a crucial point in the protection of our planet.”

Climate change can have a personal impact on us, as Carol Miller reflects from her time as a child seeing the environment change around her.

“I grew up in suburb which had been built on farm land.We had a big field in front of my house and we would  play for hours, running through the long grass, putting on plays in the abandoned chicken coops, or swinging from ropes on trees. The day the Council started work to turn this wonderful wild playground into a manicured grass and tarmac park with metal swings and slides, we were invaded by field mice.

Of course they were quickly dealt with and I was happy… because as a 5 year old, I just wanted to not be frightened by the scratching above my head from the loft as I tried to sleep.  I remember when that noise stopped but I don’t remember when I stopped hearing the owl calls at night.

Nowadays, thankfully, we are more aware of the consequences of loss of habitat, how our actions affect nature and the continued decline of the wildlife we used to think common. I am thankful for those early childhood memories, which continue to influence my artistic practice and creativity and I am privileged to be part of an exhibition which raises awareness that we need to preserve our green spaces and we realise how important they are and the impact of one species of the decline of one species, what that can have on a lot of species.

The dormouse population is in serious danger, their numbers are estimated to have fallen by 52% and this is due to the loss of woodland and hedgerows.”

Carol Miller’s Misdirection features a dormouse amongst the grasses is part of On The Brink.

Another artist in the exhibition is photographer Mark Reeves who has been using Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) in his practice. This technique features in his work ‘After the Fires’ part of a collection of photographs on the theme of climate change.

Mark Reeves says – “I call the collection ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ after the UB40 song. The works in this series were created using a technique called intentional camera movement (ICM) which means deliberately moving the camera whilst the shutter is open. If the technique is applied well, the resulting images can be soft and diffuse, sometimes with the appearance of a JMW Turner painting.

At the time when I created The Earth Dies Screaming I was working on creating a series of landscapes using the ICM technique and I noticed that many of the works were sombre and foreboding. It occurred to me that they portrayed what the world could look like in a dystopian future ravaged by storms, floods and fires and so, as a lifelong environmentalist, I decided to associate the work with climate change.

This particular piece, After the Fires portrays the aftermath of a forest fire. It was created at Delamere Forest in Cheshire.”

Susan Brown has contributed six wood and lino cut works form a variety of series to this exhibition showing species of hares, owls and otters native to the UK.

Brown tells us more – “The Brown Hare is on the endangered list in Britain. I am fortunate that on the Wirral where I live, there’s a colony of these wonderful animals  enjoying the wide spaces and the low vegetation. The Spring Hares piece show hares in springtime boxing, part of their mating ritual.

Hares were almost extinct in the 1950s and the otter is now currently listed as endangered, The otter lives in the vegetation of water banks, and is still under threat from water pollution.During the last year, there have been over 4,000 pollution incidents, including raw sewage pumped into our waterways.Our waterways will create dams and pools which will become sewage traps. If we don’t address this issue, the otter won’t be able to swim free.

The piece ‘Baby Owls’ is a black and white lino cut on paper. In the UK the owl population has been estimated to have fallen by a third since the 1970s. A likely factor includes the one that Chris has outlined because the Larches have nice nesting holes in there trunks which suit the Owls.”

Oliver McAinsh has contributed an existing series of graphite pencil drawings to this exhibition that relate to species that have already become extinct such as the dinosaurs.

Oliver says – “The drawings are about the relationships between the crowds and the exhibits,the present, and the past” in reference to how museums, here showing the Natural History Museum in London preserve the memory species that used to walk amongst us. Oliver plays around with scale between the spectator and the exhibit, between the human and the sea creature or skeleton to portray a sense of being engulfed.

While other artists in this exhibition look at the species living amongst us now that are in need of help, are endangered and edging closer to extinction; McAinsh examines how we already, and will in the future catalogue species lost to environmental change.

Discover more of On The Brink in this Collection!