Homage to the Earth: Earth Days 1970 and 2013

Earth Day 1970: Public Art 101

Forty three years ago when the first Earth Day was held, I was just finishing up my freshman year at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. As part of the celebration, which would ultimately mark the beginning of the modern environmental movement, our sculpture professor required that we design and implement a bio-degradable, site specific, outdoor installation.  Of course, the concepts, ‘site specific’ and ‘installation’ were brand new to the contemporary art world as was the idea of ‘bio-degradable’ materials. I didn’t know at the time that what we were assigned to do could also be classified as Public Art and that so many years later I would be immersed in a large public art project and remembering my first, primitive attempt in that discipline today, on Earth Day 2013.

After a limited survey of the common substances familiar to us that might fall into the category required, my classmate, Leslie, and I decided to collaborate on a jello sculpture. (Yes, even then I was prone to collaboration.)  It seemed silly to us at the time and hardly worth the monumental effort it required to make, refrigerate and transport the product of 100 boxes of red jello.  It was a warm day on April 22, 1970 when the sculpture was installed on the concrete walkway outside our dorm, and the jello melted appropriately as required.  I wish I had a photo of the actual sculpture to document the moment, but picture this: large 12″ x 18″ slabs of red jello piled on top of each other at various angles to a height of about 3 feet, shining brilliantly in the sun.  The image below will give you a general idea of what it looked like.

 Red Jello, Cubed

Red Jello, Cubed

I remember fellow students mocking our efforts and those of our classmates as they passed by. None of them connected the ‘art’ to a statement promoting a ‘green’ environment and conservation of the Earth’s resources. Quite frankly, Leslie and I didn’t either. We were just completing the assignment. I am grateful now, though, to that professor for forcing us to pay attention by commemorating that historic day. Happy Earth Day 2013.


The Color of Water in Nature and in Art

Is Water Blue?

Well, that depends. Because of it’s intrinsic molecular structure, water is generally tinted a pale blue. But it can take on different hues when it contains impurities, bacteria and other natural or unnatural substances or by reflecting what is above its surface.

A section of the Colorado River at Marble Canyon in Arizona is colored by algae that blooms in the spring, turning the water a deep, hooker’s green.

 The Colorado Canyon, Arizona, at Marble Canyon

The Colorado Canyon, Arizona, at Marble Canyon

The Emerald Lakes on Mt. Tongariro, a compound volcano in New Zealand, contain large deposits of surfur, which ‘paint’ the water a beautiful shade of turquoise.

 Emerald Lakes, Mt. Tongariro, New Zealand

Emerald Lakes, Mt. Tongariro, New Zealand

On September 6, 2012, a portion of the Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world, suddenly turned beet red near the city of Chongquing. Scientists debated the cause: some attributed the frightening color to sediment forming upstream and traveling downstream; others suggested that microorganisms in the water were the culprit; many blamed industrial pollution. Bloggers and other media sources even proposed at the time that the strange phenomenon was the result of a biblical curse.


The Yangtze River at Chongquing, September, 2012,

Oceans and lakes reflect the multiple colors in the sky, creating a mirror effect in the water.

sunsets 19How Do Artists Depict The Color of Water?

Over the last century, as part of modern art movements such as impressionism, fauvism, and pointillism, etc., artists have taken great liberties in rendering what they perceive to represent the color and nature of water. Here are some notable examples.

Georges Braque, the 20th century French painter who began his career as an impressionist, later embraced the Fauvist style and ultimately co-founded the movement known as cubism, created this image, entitled, “Landscape near Antwerp” in 1906.  The striking mauve, yellow and red colors of the water and the bold strokes of the paint suggest a highly emotional responses to the scene, characteristic of the Fauve approach to painting.

 "Landscape near Antwerp," Georges Braque, 1906

“Landscape near Antwerp,” Georges Braque, 1906, Collection of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NYC, 60 x 80 cm.

French impressionist, Claude Monet, created 250 paintings in his Water Lily series, depicting the gardens and landscape of his beloved home at Giverny. In this one, entitled, “The Water Lilies – Setting Sun,” Monet used soft yellow, mauve, blue and green colors, reflecting the gorgeous light of the sky on the lily pond at the end of the day.

“The Water Lilies – Setting Sun,” Claude Monet, 1914 – 1926, Collection of the Musee de l’Orangerie, Paris, 78.74″ x 236.22″

David Hockney, a British-born Pop artist, worked for a period of three decades from the 1960′s through the 1980′s on a series of paintings of swimming pools set in California landscapes. The swimming pool paintings reflected his fascination with the ‘utopian’ popular culture of the sunny, California lifestyle. Using vibrant colors that were filled with the suggestion of sunlight, Hockney’s presented his own version of water, chlorinated and sanitized within the man-made, concrete version of a ‘swimming hole.’

 "A Bigger Splash," David Hockney, 1967, 95.5" x 96"

“A Bigger Splash,” David Hockney, 1967, 95.5″ x 96″

Of course, I couldn’t end this post without a reference to the way in which Elena and I have depicted the color of water. In 2012, we completed twelve, 4′x 8′ sequential paintings on paper, entitled “Mid-Summer Day’s Dream,” a mixed-media, visual narrative relating the experience of an ordinary day interrupted by a life-changing event. The painting shown here is the seventh in the twelve-part series. Using red, pink, yellow, purple, black, white, brown and multiple shades of blue and green, we created an image of the moment in which the hesitant viewer of the narrative finally plunges into the force of an approaching wave.

“Plunge,” Painting 7 of 12 in “Mid-Summer Day’s Dream,” Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, Acrylic and Mixed Media on Paper, 4′ x 8,’ 2010 – 2012












‘Rain Waves

April Showers

It’s April and, as a tribute to ‘April Showers,’ Elena and I created a Rain Wave. Rain never looked so stunning or so hopeful. The installation emphasizes the brilliance of rain, which provides vital moisture for the land, fills our reservoirs, ponds, rivers, lakes and streams for human and animal consumption and nourishes our lives.

 Rain Wave Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

Rain Wave,  Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, 2013
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman


Rain Wave,  Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, 2013
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

 Rain Wave, Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman Photography Courtesy of Elena Kalman

Rain Wave, Detail, Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, 2013
Photography Courtesy of Elena Kalman

 Rain Wave, Detail, Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, 2013 Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

Rain Wave, Detail, Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, 2013
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman