Nurtured by Nature: 7 Artists Helping Us Celebrate Earth Month 2024

Nurtured by Nature: 7 Artists Helping Us Celebrate Earth Month 2024 cover

Can art help save the planet? In recent years, artists, scientists, and humanitarians have banded together to grapple with the drought, rising tides, insect outbreaks, and extended wildfire seasons of our contemporary climate. “As humans, we often forget that we are also living in the ecosystem, a part of nature,” says textile artist James Hsieh, whose immersive installations and soft sculptures are meant to inspire awe and appreciation for the natural world.

Today, in acknowledgment of Earth Month 2024, we’re featuring seven amazing artists, including James, who use their work to challenge preconceived notions about our role in the environment's health. Exploring everything from climate anxiety to the life cycle of vulnerable ecosystems, these artists remind us we’re all responsible, in one way or another, for the place we call home. As James says, “We must do something other than take.”

James Hsieh

In acknowledgment of Earth Month 2024, we’re featuring seven contemporary artists who challenge preconceived notions about our role in the environment's health.
‘Butterfly’ by James Hsieh

Described as an “environmental imagineer” by his alma mater, Parsons School of Design, James Hsieh uses felt and other textiles to create an alternative version of nature, plucked directly from his subconscious. The multidisciplinary artist developed a fascination with local flora and fauna after growing up on his grandparents’ farm in Taoyuan, Taiwan. “I’ve always been fascinated by how complex and diverse nature is, and the belief that there is an infinite unknown in this world [waiting] to be discovered,” he writes in his artist statement.

Over the years, James’ childhood adventures in Taoyuan’s subtropical climate transformed into “bizarre dreams that opened a door to another hidden dimension.” The bees, butterflies, and ladybugs of his youth are now terrifying and toothy, colorful and cuddly, all at once. Capturing the curiosity of his youth, James transforms drawings and murals into immersive installations jam-packed with plush 3D sculptures. “I often play with scale to activate the perspectives of both adults and kids,” he notes. “My intent is to create an immersive environment that strives to reactivate the viewer's childlike wonderment with nature by producing a sensorial reaction.”

Learn more about James: Plush Sculptures From James Hsieh Capture the Wonders of the Natural World

Susan Chambers

‘For the Birds’ by Susan Chambers

Susan Chambers strays far from the American standard of a manicured lawn and a garden carpeted with non-native plants. The Arkansas-based painter practices soliphilia, a term coined by sustainability professor Glenn Albrecht that refers to “the love and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet, and the unity of interrelated interests within it.”

Keeping this practice in mind over the past six years, Susan supports a flourishing, biodiverse garden populated by native plants and buzzing pollinators—the perfect inspiration for her lush and leafy work. After tending to her garden, Susan creates small plein-air studies that undergo expansion and elaboration in her studio. “I seek a magical place between reality and abstraction,” she says of her process. Her acrylic work, painted in a flattened style, features food-bearing plants, flowers, birds, insects, and often Susan herself, working away at an easel or gripping a garden hose.

Learn more about Susan: The Transcendental Beauty of Susan Chambers’ Southern Gardens

Josie Morway

‘The Bird in Your Heart #1’ by Josie Morway

Boston-based painter Josie Morway rests comfortably in ambiguity. “I want to acknowledge the impossibility of accurately declaring where we are in the arc of our civilization,” the self-taught artist says, describing the idea behind her latest body of work, Course of Empire.

Titled after a series of paintings by English-born American artist Thomas Cole, Course of Empire’s ink and oil paintings combine Dutch Masters’ meticulous techniques with a hyper-modern color palette that illuminates the fragility and fortitude of the natural world. Painted with an intense reverence that escalates into surrealism, Josie’s work is poetic, politically charged, and darkly comical all at once. Course of Empire contemplates the sanctity of wildlife in the face of human degradation and seeks to challenge the assumptions we thrust upon our interactions with the wilderness.

Learn more about Josie: Josie Morway: The Fortitude and Fragility of the Natural World

Jonathan Brooks

‘Victoria’ by Jonathan Brooks

A lifelong amateur artist, Hermann Rorschach showed people inkblots to discover what they saw and how they saw it. Miami-based artist Jonathan Brooks employs a similar strategy with Botaniscopes, a semi-abstract photo series inspired by the dazzling beauty of Southern plant life. “Through the influence of life, science fiction, and fantasy, I aim to enhance a viewer’s perception of our environment and our relationship with nature,” he says. “[My work] is also a fun way to combine light, reflections, and symmetry by embracing unusual perspectives.”

Created as a love letter to Miami, Botaniscopes marries the blobby ambiguity of the Rorschach test with the swirling explosion of color and pattern at the end of a kaleidoscope. Each image of a palm frond, tropical flower, or cherry blossom is halved, then spliced to form a symmetrical whole: a perfect botanical mirror unfolding into infinity. Though Jonathan calls his environmentally conscious work “green,” the Botaniscopes series is rich with color: canary yellows and velvety pinks against the swimming pool blue of Miami’s sky. “The meaning of the word ‘green’ has outgrown the mere definition of the color,” he tells NOT REAL ART. “It’s now used and applied to almost everything related to anything benefiting or creating awareness about the environment.”

Learn more about Jonathan: Kaleidoscopic Botanical Photographs From Jonathan Brooks

Shaylen Broughton

In acknowledgment of Earth Month 2024, we’re featuring seven contemporary artists who challenge preconceived notions about our role in the environment's health.
‘Riptide’ by Shaylen Broughton

A decade ago, an American artist walked along the canal-lined streets of Venice, paused to scoop up some salt water, and tucked it away for later. That artist is Shaylen Broughton, who used the canal water to create a series of abstract paintings, imparting the magic of Venice into the cold-pressed paper. “I loved the idea of physically taking a piece of the experience and putting it into my expression on paper,” says Shaylen, whose oceanic work encapsulates the phrase, “Go with the flow.”

That simple act all those years ago catalyzed Shaylen’s painting practice, which now incorporates natural water from all over the world. “Each painting is created with a small amount of water gathered from the Earth's oceans, rivers, and lakes,” she says. “The concept of adding water from natural sources to each piece is to add the energy of life to the work.” Using a unique formula of natural water, cool acrylics, and clear glaze, Shaylen creates distinct biomorphic patterns that mimic underlying structures in the natural world. “[The patterns are] a representation of natural forms that repeat in nature and the connection between all life,” she says.

Learn more about Shaylen: Abstract Expressionist Shaylen Broughton Goes With the Flow [Interview]

Jonah Jacobs

In acknowledgment of Earth Month 2024, we’re featuring seven contemporary artists who challenge preconceived notions about our role in the environment's health.
‘Internode #2’ by Jonah Jacobs

Almost animate, Jonah’s kaleidoscopic sculptures glow from within, pulsing with an eerie alien light. The Ohio-based artist isn’t sculpting the rocky terrain of Zebulon 9, though, or even an imaginary underwater cave on Mars. His work emphasizes the grandeur and complexity of carbon-based life forms on Earth, their structures distilled, magnified, and taken out of context. “Understanding the physicality and how form and function are intertwined in nature is the philosophical foundation from which all of my sculptures are created,” says Jonah. “I want to know how things are built and not just what they look like.”

Describing himself as a “material alchemist,” Jonah blends art and science, using unpredictable elements to give his sculptures a life of their own. “Fire also plays a large role in some of my work,” he says. “I use fire to create spontaneous and organic shapes. This helps keep my work from becoming too formulaic or geometric in form.” From fire to oatmeal, the offbeat materials Jonah uses to create his sculptures open a whole nebula of possibilities. Recycled egg cartons, yarn, gravel, sand, spices, and dryer sheets become the genetic blueprint for sea urchins, stars, fossils, ancient trees, primordial space soup.

Learn more about Jonah: ‘Material Alchemist’ Jonah Jacobs Sculpts With Sand, Spices, Fire, and Oatmeal

Hannah Rothstein

In acknowledgment of Earth Month 2024, we’re featuring seven contemporary artists who challenge preconceived notions about our role in the environment's health.
‘Greetings From Michigan’ by Hannah Rothstein

“What is wrong with our politicians?” pop artist and activist Hannah Rothstein asks, echoing a question on the tips of many American tongues. “With […] plenty of unshakably clear evidence that climate change is making the Earth vastly less habitable—how can they continue to drag their feet on combating climate change?”

Incredulous and outraged, Hannah designed 50 States of Change, a series of postcards released in partnership with Greenpeace USA that illustrates the effects of climate change on each state. Painting climate change as a contemporary problem that demands immediate attention, Hannah details the natural disasters currently terrorizing the U.S. “Greetings From California” gives viewers a taste of the West Coast fire season while Arizona’s already dry terrain cracks under severe drought. Michigan’s lakes are a sickly shade of green, frothy with toxic algal blooms, while coastal states like Delaware sink under warm Atlantic waters.

Learn more about Hannah: Hannah Rothstein Illustrates 50 States of American Climate Change

All photos published with permission of the artist(s).

Want to be featured on NOT REAL ART? Email editor@notrealart.com with a short introduction and a link to your online portfolio or three images of your work.


Tags

Arbor Day, Earth Day 2024, Earth Month, environmental art, environmental artist, green art, green artist, landscape art, nature art


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