Artists pay homage to Earth Month in Climate exhibition at LBCAC

By MARRIE STONE

April is Earth Month, an extension of the annually recognized Earth Day on April 22. In the 34 years since Earth Day went global, environmental awareness has improved. Our situation has not.

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Courtesy of LBCAC

“Climate: Air, Earth and Water” is on display at LBCAC through May 25. Photographers Jacques Garnier and Tom Lamb are joined by artist Roberto Salas in this special exhibition.

Climate concerns have quickly escalated into a climate crisis. Last year, scientists reported the highest temperatures ever on our planet. It wasn’t an anomaly. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred in the past decade. Unsurprisingly, as of 2022, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is also the highest it’s been in human history.

While our global situation is dire, it’s not without hope. More individuals, businesses, organizations and governments are responding to this crisis than ever before. People are using their platforms to put out the call: Pay attention before it’s too late. As awareness rises, so do technological solutions to our outsized problems.

Three California-based artists are using their visual megaphones this month at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center (LBCAC) to draw attention to our warming planet. Multidisciplinary visual artist/musician Roberto Salas and photographers Jacques Garnier and Tom Lamb have more than 30 works on display this spring, each addressing different aspects of our climate crisis. Covering the sea, land and sky, these three artists pay homage to our collective home and implicitly ask each of us what we’re willing to sacrifice to save it.

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Photo by Marrie Stone

(L-R) Aerial photographer Tom Lamb and LBCAC Director Rick Conkey

Roberto Salas plunges us beneath the sea

An astounding 750 billion tons of glacial ice melt every year due to global warming. That’s 24,000 tons of water added to the world’s oceans every second. Think 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools per second. And it never stops.

Roberto Salas painted his Iceberg series as an old oil master might paint portraits of dead presidents – once commanding and magnificent, now crumbling under the weight of history.

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Courtesy of Roberto Salas

Multidisciplinary artist Roberto Salas’ “Iceberg” series. The diptych shows how subtle shifts in light and weather affect color, or less subtle shifts like climate change and ice melts.

“Icebergs are earth’s grandfathers,” Salas said, noting how they’re slowly dying away. “Eventually, we’re going to have a very different landscape. I’m trying to make people aware of that. I don’t want to scare them. But it’s happening. I want them to realize the situation and start thinking about solutions. The average person thinks, ‘The problem is too big. What can I do?’ When, in fact, it’s amazing what one person can do.”

Salas has spent much of his life focused on environmental concerns. He’s traveled to Patagonia and Alaska, working with the indigenous population and observing the icebergs up close. “I talked with native elders who said, ‘These icebergs are like us. They’re disappearing. They’ve eradicated so many of us through genocide. Now we’re doing the same thing to the land.’ It’s a genocide against appropriated land for resources and money.”

At the same time, Salas hoped to capture the majesty and magnitude of these massive natural giants. “They remind me so much of architecture. Man-made architecture. But they’re totally organic. The structure, the weight, how they fall – because architecture does fall,” Salas said, obliquely referencing the World Trade Center. “Witnessing them calving is incredible – what it does to the water. I looked at how fragmented ice stabilizes itself. After dislodging, it seeks out buoyancy and balance to right itself. And the colors are always changing. That was the biggest challenge to paint.”

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Courtesy of Roberto Salas

Roberto Salas in Alaska studying his subject matter

Jacques Garnier bridges the gap between hope and despair

Forests occupy almost one-third of California’s diverse landscape. Those forests suffered during the 2012-2016 drought. An estimated 170 million trees died between 2010 and 2021 in our state. Higher temperatures, combined with scarce water, made them vulnerable to insects and disease. Renowned local photographer Jacques Garnier has been memorializing these withering giants for nearly a decade. His Revival series (2015-2018) serves as both a call to action and a cause for hope. Focusing primarily on deciduous trees and their symbiotic relationship to their environment, Garnier sees a metaphor for how humans might also learn to adapt to our ever-changing environment.

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“Deciduous trees lose their leaves as an act of survival in preparation for their revival – a strategy enabling the tree to defy the often barren cold and dry weather of winter,” Garnier said. “This also allows the tree greater receptivity to pollinate in the spring. Vital and ancient, this adaptation keeps alive the trees’ struggle to survive. That’s the lesson for us. That’s what we need to learn how to do.”

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Photo by Jeff Rovner

Photographer Jacques Garnier with his “Revival” series

In contrast to that aspirational message, Garnier also offers his 2022 series Apocalypsis, a dystopian reimagining of our planet with a blackened sun. Using Latin titles like “Igne natura renovator integra” (“Through fire nature is reborn whole”) and “Sapiens qui prospicit” (“Wise is he who looks ahead”), Garnier lays down a warning with pastel images that are both sinister and pleasing at once.

“Trying to predict the future in this time of climatic upheaval is, at best, a guessing game,” Garnier said. “These images attempt to describe, in surrealistic boldness, what that climate might look like. I didn’t want to throw negativity into the show. But I wanted to bring awareness to the topic. If we get our act together, maybe we can do something about it. This exhibition is a way to stimulate that conversation.”

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Photo by Jeff Rovner

Jacques Garnier showcases his “Apocalypsis” series

Tom Lamb lends a bird’s eye view of climate change

Last year, Scientific American reported a study on the rise in algal blooms and its link to global warming. A study published in Nature used satellite data to track algal blooms across the globe between 2003 and 2020. Researchers examined 153 coastal countries and 54 large marine ecosystems. During the study, algal blooms increased in size by about 13 percent, or 1.5 million additional square miles.

Aerial photographer Tom Lamb has been following these blooms for years. He estimates he’s taken roughly 1,000 helicopter flights over more than 30 years, documenting our land and changes to our planet, particularly in and around Orange County.

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Photo by Marrie Stone

Photographer Tom Lamb with “Autumn” as both archival print and Tibetan hand-knotted wool and silk carpet. This aerial photograph was taken of the San Francisco Salt Flats.

Lamb’s decades of flyovers have revealed significant changes to the land. “I do see change,” he said. “Much of my photography focuses on man’s marks on the land. Flying over Apple Valley, I’ve seen abandoned boats and all sorts of weird stuff. My work is not about nature scenes, per se. It’s about how we interact with our land. I’m looking for the anomalies at the edges of the things I’m photographing.”

A few years ago, Lamb took those aerial photographs to the next level, turning paper and ink images into textured carpets woven by craftswomen in Tibet and Nepal. “The carpets are an extension of my work. The wool is naturally sourced from the high Tibetan plateau. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Tibetan Highlands. The silk is from organic silk farms in southern India, and I’ve spent a lot of time there also. All the dyes are naturally sourced. All of that’s important to that extension.”

Lamb’s decision to transform his aerial photography into carpets was a product of pushing his own artistic boundaries. “I’d been seeing things from above, looking down. Now I’m bringing that vision full circle, taking a full spectrum color photograph and making a large image that’s made of four or five colors. I asked myself, ‘How does that abstract it further? What does that become?’ That pushed me as an artist.”

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Photo by Marrie Stone

Tom Lamb with “Cargo.” This abstract aerial photograph was taken above Orange County’s John Wayne Airport.

“It’s impressive when different aspects of the arts come together for a united cause,” said LBCAC Director Rick Conkey. “In this case, climate change.”

Conkey plans a series of Earth Month events to accompany the exhibition including the Make Earth Cool Again film festival. Dorothy Randal Gray will also conduct a writer’s workshop called The Earth Speaks. “No one is listening to the Earth’s lost languages,” Conkey said. “Storms, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, severe flooding. We’re running out of time. We need to pay attention.”

Climate: Air, Earth and Water will be on display at LBCAC through May 25. For more information, visit their website by clicking here.


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