Since my youth, I have felt most at ease in the world when surrounded by trees. Over forty years ago, as a seven year-old, I first plied the forests of New York’s Catskill Mountains. Even now, I conjure those early memories: following my father and uncle through the forests' understory, my view then at the eye level of a newly born fawn, and I renew my awe for the majesty of nature. Today, it is no wonder that my life is inextricably tied to the forests, and that my artwork focuses on the creatures embedded there. Butterflies, Marbled Murrelets, and Ivory Billed Woodpeckers are among those I've depicted. By contrast, my sculpture “Whitewashed” does not depict a forest dweller, but instead, a creature synonymous with the ice flows of the frozen north: the Polar Bear.
"To whitewash" (when not by lime, water, and glue) is defined to gloss over, cover up, conceal, or palliate flaws, failures, vices, crimes or scandals; to exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data; each possibly including aims of political gain. “Whitewashed” encompasses our forests on these levels and more. My entire sculpture grows from a single large round of ancient Western Red Cedar. Mirroring the treatment of the forests in our new reality--climate change and global warming--the work is literally whitewashed. Drowned in white paint, the massive tree evokes another tenuous environment: the white ice fields and bears of the retreating Arctic.
What truly are the realities we, and these species, together face? This sculpture is inspired by irony: the irony that comes with knowing that forest damage and loss--the same deforestation which brought us this log, our homes, the fuel of progress--renders and accelerates our atmosphere's failure to arrest the build-up of greenhouse gases. In turn, and seemingly so simply, forests fall, our planet heats up, and the bears' habitat also goes away. With the loss of their habitat, so go the bears.
My artistic path through the forests leads me to the austere ice of the Earth's poles. And some will also notice: not only is it the bears' whose habitat is threatened…. Over 600 years passed while the Earth produced the log from which I rendered “Whitewashed." How long will it take mankind to understand and act on the interconnectedness of our species with all others?
2013, "Whitewashed", COCA Seattle, Seattle Washington
Image By C.B. Bell
Joseph Rossano, in his massive wall installation SCRAP-California Compliant (2014) has compiled for the viewer a modern hieroglyph to explain one aspect of our relationship with nature. Individual sections speak as single ideas and join as blocks of information to further emphasize that decisions come at an expense and therefore, these decisions should be made wisely and with a recognition of their ultimate cost.
Materials act as a second layer of information to this story. Deft handling of tar and whitewash portray a nature that is abundant and vibrant while also one that is covered and ignored. Using cast-off wood and tar to frame the idea of that which falls away serves to further underscore our disregard. Texts by London and Longfellow provide insight into a silent population while the large scale of the artwork overwhelms us with an urgency to act.
Guest curator, "Neo-Naturalists", Museum of Northwest Art
2015, "SCRAP" - California Compliant" Neo Naturalists, Museum of Northwest Art, La Conner Washington
Image by Peter Kuhnlein