Last Friday I gave a speech and challenge at Evolution: A Human Mash Up. Here is my speech:
My name is Rebecca Shapiro. I am an artist and entrepreneur. I am also founder of gallery verno, an online sustainable fine art gallery.
gallery verno is a collective of artists, “vernoists”, who are exploring what sustainable fine art means. When you visit gallery verno you see that each artist has a sustainability statement. It’s very interesting because there is room for each of us to have our ideas and ideals around what it means to be sustainable. This is biodiversity in action!
We know that art is the perfect venue for creating a deeper conversation around sustainability because art stimulates awareness and prompts the viewer to think, explore their inner world, make a change – even if for a brief moment. Our goal is to inspire people to take action towards building a sustainable world through sustainable art.
So, just what is sustainable fine art? In a nutshell, sustainable means to be made from renewable resources without depleting future resources, something that can continue indefinitely. If you look back through time, art certainly does that. Look at the paintings of Lascaux, DaVinci or Picasso. These works can be defined as sustainable because so far, they have continued indefinitely and we want to do everything to conserve them.
But now, things have changed. Sustainable fine art can’t just mean that you’ve created an image worthy of preservation. Sustainable fine art means that you, as an artist, must consider your materials, your studio practices and your personal philosophy. It means that you, as an art collector, use your dollars to support sustainable art and create a new breed known as the eco-art collector.
Right now there is a big push in the art materials industry to market art products as green. Many can safely claim that they are non-toxic or recyclable. But is that really being sustainable? While the end products on the shelf might be considered earth friendly, minimizing waste, pollution and depletion of natural resources, this is not a strategy for long term success. In fact, it only makes the current, destructive system sustainable. This is referred to as the cradle to grave concept.
• Did you know that Up to 36 billion pounds of toxic acrylic polymer solvents, found in many traditional art supplies, are produced each year?
• Did you know that most of the earth pigments found in paints are open-mined which can be an environmentally destructive practice?
• Did you know that most standard art supplies emit asthma-inducing chemicals containing ammonia and formaldehyde?
No, what I’m talking about is digging deeper into what sustainability means and apply art to the cradle to cradle concept. Cradle to cradle asks us to transform the way we make things – the way we make art. When a product returns to its industry at the end of a useful life and its materials are used to make valuable new products that do not return to the landfill, this is sustainable. Why not design products so safe they don’t need regulation? Imagine a relationship between artist and eco-art collector where the artwork is returned, reworked and reinvented at the end of its life. Imagine a painting that has served its purpose, tossed on your garden for composting which feeds plants that are used to create pigments for future use.
There is amazing fine art out there made from recycled and reclaimed materials. But what about the fine artist like me that uses paints, pencils, inks, charcoals, pastels, paper, adhesives, varnishes, photography, etc? I might be green in my beliefs, studio practices and imagery but what if my medium isn’t sustainable? How can I create art but make choices that leave little or no impact? I don’t have all the answers but it’s worth having a conversation and exploring.
The entrepreneur turned artist, Matt Lamb, says “it’s hard to kill somebody ou’re having a conversation with. Once we begin talking to each other we begin building bridges. We open ourselves up to new ideas that are different from our own. We move beyond prejudices and begin to see possibilities.”
So, here is the gallery verno challenge!
Portland is striving to be the sustainability capital of the world. Portland is enjoying an emerging and thriving art scene. We also have a lush and diverse plant life in the region. Why not toss these three dynamic variables together and develop a viable, sustainable art medium with what grows here? It could be paint, an ink or a pigment…something made from local plant materials that could be used in creating sustainable fine art.