Democratized Ecosystems

With the advent of modernity, the balance of nature has been disrupted by the lightning speed at which human-engineered technologies have ignited.

In my telescopic paintings and mixed media artwork, I investigate societal constructs and existential narratives of equality, hierarchy in nature, and human interaction within the physical world. I examine the juncture between industry that sustains humans and the condition of the Earth that nurtures all forms. Through the looking glass of my fascination with alternative universes and mystical states of mind, I create ethereal worlds fertilized with dichotomies. Whether tension or coexistence reigns in each of my pieces, all are ripened for renewal. Cultivating conversation about biodiversity, environmental sustainability, planetary stewardship and purposeful progress are territory that I navigate. It is a precipice where I imagine sitting down with Albert Einstein, Martin Buber and Plato. Legs dangle on the edge ready to leap into a science and philosophy mind-meld.

2 He:Sustaining. (2017 National Award, Best in Show.) Oil, acrylic, charcoal on canvas. 84″H x 84″W.

From this viewpoint, I experiment with varied viscosities of acrylic and oil paint, grittiness of sand paper and luminosity of stand oil representing water, air and land. By design or accident, systems of saturated greens, reds, oranges and violets change with intensity and texture. Layers of dripping and oozing abstraction become melting moss and floating fauna.

With the collision of content and materials, I aim to stimulate the experience of movement in my hybridized ecospheres. Constellations of natural imagery and human-made technologies that I pattern, weave in and out of existence like a game of celestial hide and seek. Clouds are the dominant playgrounds in which my deer, bulls, cement plants and water towers orbit. Their anomalies in scale symbolize every Alice who shrinks and expands in an unpredictable wonderland, as she/we navigate environmental dualities of harmony and tension, and political and social control and chaos.

Bonding with nature took root in my youth. The seemingly ordinary became extraordinary and the mundane transformed into mystery. Hidden ecosystems emerged as I became increasingly aware of the beauty of flourishing plant life, rugged rocks and minerals, and cool rippling streams and lakes of upstate New York and western New Hampshire. A bevy of rabbits, turtles, fish, dogs, salamanders and lightning bugs became adopted family and a supplementary classroom teacher as they ceaselessly entertained and enlightened me.  

18 Ar:Sustaining. Oil, acrylic, charcoal, graphite on paper. 18″H x 24″W.

At 11 years old, I ritually climbed a 60-70-foot scrub pine in the woods behind our upstate New York home. Covered in the tree’s sticky honey-colored sap, inhaling the tantalizing scent of evergreen, swaying in the wind in the top bough, I created an imaginary world in which I could dance with the white billowing clouds in the baby blue sky. In one meditative moment, I realized that everything in nature was interconnected and all that existed was of equal importance. There was, and is, no hierarchy in our universe.

What did a small 11-year-old do with such a big concept? I dreamed. I dreamed of what could be if other people felt this universal connection to one another and all of nature. Two years later, on April 22, 1970, the birth of the twentieth century environmental movement known as Earth Day emerged in the midst of a tumultuous political and social climate that had cracked open the dangers to democracy and individual rights of United States citizens. Voices of college students decrying an ill-conceived Vietnam War and the sickness of racial and gender discrimination rang across our nation from coast to coast. Advocating for a sustainable planet, people from all walks of life and political persuasions banded together to create a united force. The public health epidemic caused by unregulated pollutants that permeated our nation’s air and water was exposed. The first major victory was the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency at the end of 1970. Environmental protection thus became intertwined in our national consciousness.

19 K:Sustaining. Oil, acrylic, charcoal on canvas. 84″H x 84″W.

That momentous movement connected me with a like-minded community. It seeded the activism that had been cultivated in my generation and had germinated in me. As an adult, my environmental voice, along with other political and social issues, were heard and seen predominantly through my art. Nature imagery inspired by my travels to Israel, Europe and in the United States illuminated the beauty and promulgation of ecological diversity worldwide. Other avenues for expression included volunteering in democratic political campaigns and the written word. For example, when living in Scarsdale, NY in the early 1990’s, I wrote about the health dangers to pets and people from spraying harmful pesticides on lawns and trees. Pursuit of perfection and display of economic status in the form of a weed free front and back yard was not a risk that I was willing to accept.

In 2016, I was invited to a month-long artist residency at Sun Peaks Center for Art and Sustainability, Colorado Springs, CO. Focused on environmental issues, this experience was transformative. My artwork grew larger in scale and the concept expanded in scope. Sourcing my Jewish/ Christian/ French/ Armenian/ USA multi-cultural background and trans disciplinary professional and academic experiences, I connected seemingly disparate ideas. Developing iconography from science, architecture, industry, language and religious text with environmental relevance, I layered symbolic narrative threads in the body of work I entitled, Democratized Ecosystems. More recently, borrowed imagery from the urban landscape of New York City and the tropical paradise of southwest Florida, and the Everglades in which I live, has entered my work. Coming full circle, with concepts grounded in my youth, I continue to plant new seeds of thought, grow awareness and cultivate conversation about contemporary clashes concerning climate change that impact the global community today and into the future.

(Top image: 20 Ca:Sustaining. Oil, graphite on canvas. 30″H x 48″W.)

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Renée Rey lives and works in New York City and Naples, Florida. Rey studied painting, art history, performance art, and interior architectural design on the undergraduate level and film and computer art on the graduate level, holding an MBA in Management and an MA in Jewish Education. Awards include Best in Show, Art Encounters National Competition 2017 by Jurors Jade Dellinger, Director, Bob Rauschenberg Gallery and Alejo Benedetti, Curatorial Assistant, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Curators selecting her work for numerous exhibitions include Dr. Julie Sasse, Chief Curator, Tucson Museum of Art and Erin Wright, Curator at LACMA.

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