Responding to the oil spill with art

By: Amanda Ray

July 14, 2010

ocean water

July 14, 2010

As frustration builds over the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, art is becoming an outlet for some trying to understand, process, and cope with the environmental disaster. From designers rebranding the BP logo to artists who are creating paintings and sculptures inspired by the oil spill, the responses are only natural, according to Beth Remsburg, Graphic Design Instructor at The Art Institute of Indianapolis.

“Artists and designers are very passionate people,” she says. “When something motivates us to act, we do. There are certain events that tug at our souls; our very being.”

As the months have gone by since the spill began, millions of gallons of oil have flooded the Gulf of Mexico, killing and injuring birds, marine animals, and other wildlife. Estimates show more than 1,200 birds have died along with more than 400 sea turtles and about 50 mammals. The oil has washed up on shorelines in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Artists say that creating works reflective of the oil spill can be one way to feel more empowered in the face of an overwhelming disaster that keeps getting worse.

“It's hard not to be impacted by the scope of this devastation whether or not you have an appreciation for the arts,” says artist and sculptor Michael T. Boroniec.

Boroniec has created a collection of pieces titled “Crude Awakening” that includes terra cotta sculptures of birds covered in oil and a silk screened American flag portrayed by motor oil on canvas.

“I was particularly struck by the all-consuming feeling of the environment being damaged and habitat that may never recover being destroyed,” he says. “Feelings motivate art and elicit passion in my work. Realizing the magnitude of this crisis was a call to action — to express my outrage and pain for what is transpiring in the Gulf through my art.”

Artists are also demonstrating their outrage in a more direct way — by recreating the BP logo. Greenpeace and LogoMyWay have each sponsored a contest for designers to create a new logo for BP that is reflective of the oil spill.

Part of the contest brief at reads: “I can’t tell you how frustrated and upset we are about BP and how they are handling this oil disaster…. I think the (6,000) creative logo designers at LogoMyWay should update the BP logo with a more suitable design and brand.”

Designers have responded. The site has pages and pages of results ranging from dead fish and birds to skulls. Remsburg says she is not surprised to see so many artists and designers responding to the crisis with art.

“We feel compassion for the people and wildlife that is affected by something that makes no sense,” she says. “We feel anger and even outrage at irresponsibility and greed.”

Through social networking and the internet, artists are sharing their work with more people than ever. From the fake BP public relations Twitter account to special reports from the Gulf on YouTube, people, including artists, are taking to the web to express their disbelief, frustration, and disgust with the oil spill. Remsburg says the technology and applications are providing unprecedented exposure to individuals’ messages.

“At no other time in the history of the world can one small voice be heard around the world — literally,” she says.

It is difficult to predict how long the environmental disaster will continue to inspire artwork, Remsburg says. Artists, like anyone else, can be easily distracted and move on to something else for inspiration, she points out.

“I hope that the response continues and grows because unfortunately the impact of this will last for generations,” she adds.

Boroniec hopes his pieces will help people remember the oil spill and the devastation it has caused. That’s why he’s still working on his collection.

“By adding to the work, I can keep it current and keep the public focused on this crisis and the ongoing nature of the devastation that is occurring,” he says. “This ongoing expression through art makes it far less likely that people will soon forget the damage that is being done and the magnitude of what is occurring.”

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By: Amanda Ray

July 14, 2010

oil spill 2010 social art