Some of my fondest memories come from visiting galleries and museums and walking around in admiration. I first took an interest in art when I saw impressionist paintings on the walls, capturing nature in a way I hadn’t imagined before.
Art from that era made me increasingly aware of the beauty of the environment. This was expressed through colors, the use of which in impressionism, makes paintings seem very real. The sky in Berthe Morisot’s Hanging the Laundry Out to Dry looked like one I’d seen on a March afternoon, and her In a Villa at the Seaside pictured a seascape I felt I’d photographed once, on a holiday maybe. I started to take notice of fields, parks, stretches of woodland and sky, looking to see if they reminded me of the paintings. What actually began was a profound love for the natural world.
Around this time, I started to paint, inspired by the art I liked. I read more into the movement, learning that the name came from Claude Monet’s 1872 painting Impression, Sunrise. To me, the scene of a boat heading out to sea immediately defined the era as nature-focused. Monet’s work became synonymous with enchanting depictions of gardens, rivers, countryside and coast. As one of the leading figures of impressionism, he created paintings that garnered a new respect for the environment.
Paris at the time acted as the heart of impressionism, and the Île de la Jatte, a small island and serene haven for wildlife near the capital, provided inspiration for many established painters. Artists like Camille Pissarro understood the need to portray nature as something to be treasured, and came to the island to practice the technique of painting outdoors or en plein air. Impressionists used the setting to create some of the best examples of artwork today, including Georges Seurat’s most famous piece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
I visited the island back in May to find inspiration for my own work. I have written about global warming and the environment in articles online, though for the past few months, I’ve instead been making art, focused on the threat of the climate catastrophe. I wanted to make paintings about a subject I felt strongly about.
I set out to paint in a way that showed one of the key ways rising temperatures are altering ecosystems and their dynamic equilibrium. The current climate emergency is disrupting seasons and changing species’ life cycles, which have been stabilized over millennia.
Birds are migrating earlier, causing them to miss out on vital resources for the season ahead, outcompeted for food and nesting places. This is made worse by other environmental pressures that continue to damage habitats and make supplies scarcer. Hibernation is cut short and species are using up energy faster than they can replace it, relying on food sources that are no longer available.
Whereas before I had been learning to trace Levitan’s careful saplings in Autumn Day and master blooms like in Vonnoh’s Poppies, I started to realize that in my new project, I could paint to communicate how climate change is throwing the features in these wonderful landscapes out of balance.
My first painting for this project was a snowscape, taking inspiration from Monet’s The Magpie. I traced trees and walls covered in snow on the canvas, then brushed on traditionally spring synonyms – bluebells and daffodils. My aim was to paint an impossible picture, to act as a take on the consequences of temperature rise and its role in species decline. I used the techniques I had learnt in the impressionist style but always completed the painting in a way that portrayed the message.
All of my paintings follow in this trompe l’oeil format. One painting is modeled after a photograph I took the previous year. Increases in temperature are causing some animals to come out of hibernation earlier than others, only to be met with another cold front. This year, news outlets have covered the phenomenon of earlier and hotter summers, causing flowers to bloom at sporadic times, some plants relying on certain factors that are lost or delayed due to the changing climate.
My favourite painting is based on another photo I took, where I tried to replicate the great colors of the sky. In the shadows of dried wetlands, I put sunflowers and early spring snowdrops side by side – environmental cues that never usually coincide.
After completing the project, I tried to find information about what was happening during these crucial changes of seasons. I found many stories, notably about birds and their need for accurate weather as a reliable indicator for all activities.
There are thousands of visual artists putting grave concerns about our climate into context through their work. These artists are pioneers in helping us build a new relationship with nature, based on respect and a willingness to protect all that is made possible by the environment, especially an environment that is healthy and thriving.
Rosie Alice is an English painter and writer whose work focuses on the changing global climate. First writing about endangered wildlife as a contributor for an online publication, she started to paint in order to explore more mediums. She wanted to create art that is reminiscent of what helped people appreciate how beautiful and precious our environment is.