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



Visual Symbols for Water

The Purpose of Symbols

According to the Webster-Merriam Dictionary, a symbol is “something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance.” The word, ‘symbol,’derives from the Greek word, symbolon, meaning “throwing things together,” so as to create an imaginative association between them.  For a symbol to hold significance within a culture or community, its meaning must be clear and easily understood. A country’s flag, for example, is a symbol of its national identity and is recognized with pride by its citizenry. Similarly, the red or yellow octagonal shape located on a street corner is known throughout the world as a directive to STOP, regardless of the language.

 French Stop Sign

French Stop Sign

Symbols in Art

A visual symbol is a mark, a design or an image used to convey an idea or physical entity. In art, symbols are the oldest form of communication. They appeared on the walls of caves, on ceremonial objects, on clothing, on jewelry, on sculpture and on tools and were a visual language used to appease or praise the gods, petition for food or rain, give thanks or tell stories.

Water Symbols Throughout History

Since water represents life to a community and is a requirement for human survival, symbols for water were especially common throughout history.  In researching these images of water from ancient cultures all over the world up to the present time, I was amazed at how little they have changed. The earliest Egyptians represented water with the following symbol of parallel, wavy lines:

A detail from a side panel of the outer coffin of Ti of Saqqara, (c. 2450 BCE) entitled, Cattle Fording a River, shows the River Nile as a series of parallel, zig-zag lines at the bottom of the image, a slight variation from the symbol above.  Egyptians tombs were filled with the images and objects that the deceased would need in his/her eternal life and the vital waters of the Nile would certainly have been included in this one.

 Cattle Fording a River Tomb of Ti of Saqqara, c. 2450 BCE

Cattle Fording a River
Tomb of Ti of Saqqara, c. 2450 BCE

The artist who created The Uruk Vase from Uruk, Iraq, (c. 3500 – 300 BCE), at a significant distance of time and geography from the creator of the Saqqara tomb scene, depicted a somewhat similar image of cattle on the banks of a river, illustrated by parallel, wavy lines, from which plants and reeds are growing.

 Uruk Vase From Uruk, Iraq c. 3500 - 300 BCE

Uruk Vase From Uruk, Iraq
c. 3500 – 300 BCE

Half a world and 1300 centuries later, a detail from the Bayeux Tapestry, entitled, “Norman Fleet Sailing for England (1070 – 1088) shows the vessel upon a sea of (yes, you guessed it) parallel, wavy lines.

 Norman Fleet Sailing For England 1070 - 1088

Norman Fleet Sailing For England
1070 – 1088

There are certainly some variations in visual symbols for water in other cultures.  The earliest Chinese symbols for water appeared as a central, wavy, vertical line, representing a river, with shorter lines signifying drops of water on the side.  But, really, don’t you think they’re still parallel, wavy lines?

 Earliest Chinese Symbols For Water

Earliest Chinese Symbols For Water

Eventually the symbol for water in Chinese evolved into an image that is a central, bold stroke with two angular marks on its left and right.

 Chinese Symbol for Water

Chinese Symbol for Water

The Navahos, Hopi, Pueblo and Zuni tribal artists used (and still use) spiral, wavy lines as symbols for water, cycles of life, renewal and springtime.

 Navaho, Hopi, Pueblo and Zuni Symbols For Water, Cycles of Life, Renewal and Springtime

Navaho, Hopi, Pueblo and Zuni Symbols For Water, Cycles of Life, Renewal and Springtime

Check out how the zodiac sign for Aquarius was and is represented – the parallel, zig-zag lines again.

 The Twelve Zodiac Signs Including The Sign For Aquarius (Water)

The Twelve Zodiac Signs Including The Sign For Aquarius (Water)

Contemporary Symbols For Water

Trademarks and logos for corporations that are associated with the water industry as well as icons for Twitter and Facebook accounts representing water organizations  abound with symbols for water.  The Water-Sea icon shown below should look familiar by now:

 Water-Sea Icon

Water-Sea Icon

The American Rivers Association Twitter Account uses a symbol of a wavy, blue line representing the river, a brown field of color below the line to symbolize earth and a yellow sky.


Finally, there’s a radically different image for water that has emerged in recent years to reflect the water conservation movement: the tap water icon.


This compilation of water symbols is by no means an exhaustive one but it does show how the importance of water has been emphasized by every culture in every time period.  What symbols of water can you find?  We’d love to post them.

Spring Water

Water as a Marker of Seasonal Change

Although March 20 marks the first official day of spring on the calendar, the temperature here in Hartford, Connecticut is still hovering around 40 degrees fahrenheit during the day and dropping into the 20s and 30s at night. There are many signs, however, that the seasons are indeed changing. In Stamford, CT, where Elena lives, the ice that has melted in the pond on her property and the growing translucent quality of light reflected in the water clearly reveal the transition from winter to spring. The images below remind us of the inherent beauty of water and its capacity to reflect and enhance the environment in which it resides.

 Trees Reflected in the Winter Pond Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

Trees Reflected in the Winter Pond
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

 Winter Pond With Ice Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

Winter Pond With Ice
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

 Pond in Spring Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

Pond in Spring
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

Homage to the Square (Wave)

The Appealing Square

There’s something about the square, the elegant geometric shape with four equal sides and four equal angles, that has always fascinated artists as a simple but challenging format for two dimensional works of art.

Joseph Albers (1888 – 1976), a German-born, American abstract painter and educator, is probably the one artist whose body of work is most commonly associated with the square. Starting in 1949, Albers devoted decades to exploring the interaction of solid planes of color and the optical effects of color in his series of square paintings, entitled, Homage to the Square. A professor of art at Yale University from 1950 – 1958, Albers published a book in 1963 entitled, Interaction of Color, which documented his ground-breaking theory of color. Joseph Albers completed hundreds of Homage to the Square paintings and prints in his lifetime.

 Joseph Albers, Homage to the Square, 1965

Joseph Albers, Homage to the Square, 1965

The Square Wave

Elena and I have long been ‘into’ the square format.  In 2010, we worked separately but concurrently on a large series of square, mixed media paintings on paper that we called Sea Squares.  The give and take of completing these 18″ x 18″ paintings as we sat side by side was most likely the determining experience that propelled us to collaborate on future projects and, ultimately, on The Wave.

 Red Rocks by Elena Kalman, Mixed Media on Paper, 2010 Courtesy of Elena Kalman

“Red Rocks” by Elena Kalman, Mixed Media on Paper, 18″ x 18,” 2010
©Elena Kalman

 Sea Square by Susan Hoffman Fishman, 2008 ©Susan Hoffman Fishman

“Sand and Waves” by Susan Hoffman Fishman, Mixed Media on Paper, 18″ x 18,” 2010
©Susan Hoffman Fishman

It was only a matter of time before we would eventually experiment with using the square format in some way with The Wave. The fact that the whole concept of a square wave is an oxymoron was all the more appealing to us. What is the best way to confine the undulating pieces of The Wave within a rigid geometric square so that the final image actually reads square wave? Here are a few samples of what we came up with.

“Blue Square Wave”
Photograph courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

 Square Wave Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

“2 Square Waves”
Photograph courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

 "Square Wave Corners" Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

“Square Wave Corners”
Photograph courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

 Blue Square Wave and Colored Square Wave Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

“Blue Square Wave and Multi-Colored Square Wave”
Photograph courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

 'Multi-Colored Square Wave" Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

‘Multi-Colored Square Wave”
Photograph courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman


The Art of Water

Water as a Theme or Metaphor in the Arts

Visual artists, poets, novelists, composers, playwrights, filmmakers and choreographers have long been inspired by the inherent beauty, movement and sound of water.  The list of well-known paintings, prints, poems, novels, plays, songs, musical compositions and dances that incorporate water as a literal image, as a theme or as a metaphor is immense.

Gene Kelly in the 1952 film, Singing in the Rain

Gene Kelly in the 1952 film, Singing in the Rain

Here are just a few examples:

Who doesn’t feel the pure joy and playfulness exuding from Gene Kelly in love when he dances, sings, leaps and stomps to Singing in the Rain in spite of the gloomy downpour and wet puddles? Or the power and force of nature portrayed in Frederick Church’s magnificent 1867 painting, Niagra Falls? In describing what he was trying to accomplish with his Water Lily paintings, Claude Monet wrote that they were “the illusion of an endless whole, of water without horizon or bank.” Handel’s 1717 commission to compose a concert for King George and his party as they sailed on the River Thames became his Water Music, a ‘flood’ of melodies, fittingly majestic and spectacular. And in his last play, The TempestWilliam Shakespeare uses the violent storm as a catalyst that dramatically affects the lives and actions of all his characters.

 The Tempest by John William Waterhouse, 1916

The Tempest by John William Waterhouse, 1916
Based on William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest

Water Across the Academic Disciplines

When we go to elementary, middle or high schools to work with students on a Wave installation, Elena and I encourage teachers to incorporate The Wave and its theme of water across academic disciplines, to tap into the poetry, novels, plays, music and dances that have already been created by singing songs, reading books, writing new stories and choreographing new dances in conjunction with The Wave installation. We also suggest that they conduct a water conservation awareness project in their local community, monitor their own water usage or research global water issues, etc.  To promote interdisciplinary learning on water, we are posting lessons on our website that teachers we have worked with have developed. We have also included a page of links on the website highlighting major national and international organizations that have created curricula on water, water conservation, water shortage around the world, water purification, water desalination and many other topics.

Poetry on Water

Relating to the topic of creative outpourings on water, I came across a poem recently that beautifully describes how water has no real shape of its own and, therefore, adapts efficiently to its environment.  The poem, “Be Like Water” was written by wellness advocate, Jason Wachob to Bruce Lee, the Chinese American martial artist.  Here it is:

Bruce Lee: Be Like Water

Be like water making its way through cracks.  Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

“Be Like Water” instigated a delightful discussion between Elena and me on our favorite poems related to water in all of its iterations (ice, snow, ocean, brook, river, lake, stream, storm, rain, sleet, pool, well, etc.,etc.).  I’ll start with Elena’s favorite, called “Marina” written by the Russian/Soviet poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892 – 1941) and translated by Elena herself.

by Marina Tsvetaeva

Some people are fashioned
Of clay and of ashes,
But I am all glittering freedom!
My name is Marina.
I act on my passions.
I’m ocean froth destined to perish.

 The Waves 'Frothing' Philbin Beach, Martha's Vineyard Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

The Waves ‘Frothing’
Philbin Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, 2008
Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

I have many favorite poems with a water theme: Water by Ralph Waldo Emerson; Going For Water by Robert Frost; Water is Taught by Thirst by Emily Dickinson; All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters by James Joyce and a special favorite from my childhood, Spring Morning by A.A. Milne. The Frost and Milne poems are included below.

Going for Water
by Robert Frost

The well was dry beside the door,
And so we went with pail and can
Across the fields behind the house
To seek the brook if still it ran;

Not loth to have excuse to go,
Because the autumn eve was fair
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,
And by the brook our woods were there.

We ran as if to meet the moon
That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,
Without the birds, without the breeze.

But once within the wood, we paused
Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,
Ready to run to hiding new
With laughter when she found us soon.

Each laid on other a staying hand
To listen ere we dared to look,
And in the hush we joined to make
We heard, we knew we heard the brook.

A note as from a single place,
A slender tinkling fall that made
Now drops that floated on the pool
Like pearls, and now a silver blade.

 Brook, 2012 Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

Brook, 2012
Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

Spring Morning
by A.A. Milne

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
Down to the stream where the king-cups grow-
Up on the hill where the pine-trees blow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.

If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
You’d sail on water as blue as air,
And you’d see me here in the fields and say:
“Doesn’t the sky look green today?”

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
“It’s awful fun to be born at all.”
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
“We do have beautiful things to do.”

If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You’d lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You’d say to the wind when it took you away:
“That’s where I wanted to go today!”

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

What are your favorite poems on water, snow, the ocean, etc? Or, for that matter, do you have favorite paintings, songs, films, operas, ballets, etc. that incorporate the theme of water? We’d love to hear about them.

Public Art as Community Building

The Purposes of Public Art

Historically, public art in the form of monuments, equestrian statues and sculptures in plazas or parks has been commissioned or built to commemorate individuals or events, emphasize the stature of governments and corporations and embellish and beautify public spaces.

There is another kind of public art, however, that has emerged in the last four decades, whose purpose is to engage individuals in ‘building community’ while they are creating works of art with the help of artists serving as their ‘mentors’ or ‘facilitators.’  Suzanne Lacy, in her 1995 book, Mapping the Terrain coined a new term for this type of community building public art: she calls it ‘new genre public art.’  It fosters connections among the participants and also develops in them a sense of personal pride as well as a common purpose and new appreciation for their local, state, national or international communities.

Lily Yeh: Transforming Communities Through Art

Lily Yeh is my personal hero. Her work exemplifies public art that is community building. She is an inspiring public artist who, though the power of art, is transforming communities and motivating individuals around the world. In 2002, Lily, a native of China and a long-time resident of Philadelphia, created Barefoot Artists, an organization dedicated to “training and empowering local residents, organizing communities, and taking action for a more compassionate, just, and sustainable future.”  Lily has worked with students, teachers, local elders, victims of genocide and children and adults suffering from trauma, pain and poverty in Rwanda, China, Ecuador, Haiti, Ghana, Syria, Italy and the U.S.  The methods she uses to engage communities and create stunning works of art are described in Awakening Creativity, a book she published in 2011. In it, she eloquently documents the journey she and the students and staff of The Dandelion School underwent to physically and spiritually transform their school, and in the process, their lives. The Dandelion School is located in an impoverished neighborhood populated by rural migrants in Beijing, China.  A documentary film on Lily’s work and life is currently in post-production.

 The Dandelion School Project, Courtesy of Lily Yeh

The Dandelion School Project
Photograph Courtesy of Lily Yeh

The Wave as Community Building

The Wave also falls into the category of ‘community building’ public art. Visitors to our Wave installations feel a sense of pride when they add their own pieces to The Wave which is growing and growing as it travels from community to community. They feel a sense of pride that their community has joined with others to create a work of art that is glorious as it glimmers and shimmers in the sun. Children and adults alike want to see where their pieces ultimately end up in the installation and how they are connected to the whole, just as they are connected to each other by their mutual need for water, the most fundamental requirement for life on this planet.


Young Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein


Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein


Participants at The Wave Installation
Connecticut Office of the Arts, HOT Schools Summer Institute, 2012
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein


Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein



The Snow Wave

Snow as a Medium for Public Art

Although water is a substance found almost everywhere on Earth, snow, its frozen equivalent, is not.  Those of us who live or have lived where snow makes its presence felt every winter, have all created public art with this medium at some point during our lives: snow people of all sizes and shapes, snow castles, snow totems, snow forts and other more elaborate snow carvings. A number of contemporary artists use snow to express their awe of nature, the vastness of a pristine, snow-covered landscape or simply the intrinsic beauty of the material. French artist, Simon Beck, fabricates enormous, complex patterns in the snow by stomping in snow shoes over his ‘canvas.’


Snow Art by Simon Beck
Photograph Courtesy of Simon Beck

Simon Beck's Wave

Snow Art by Simon Beck
Photograph Courtesy of Simon Beck

The Snow Wave

On February 8 and 9, 2013, Blizzard Charlotte, a storm of historic proportions, dumped almost three feet of snow in my figurative and literal backyard.  Using the white material as a ‘canvas’ of our own, Elena and I created a Wave installation in the snow. All of the pieces that have been created to date by visitors at Wave sites, minus the ones currently hanging at the Gaffney Elementary School in New Britain, CT, went into the sculpture that cascaded down the side of the house, meandered into and over the brook and flowed around the garden plantings.  We were exhausted from tromping through knee-deep snow for three hours, but gratified by the results.


The Snow Wave, 2013 by Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman


The Snow Wave, 2013 by Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman


The Snow Wave, 2013 by Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman


The Snow Wave, 2013 by Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman


Why The Wave?

The Wave-Kennedy Greenway,Boston

The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Boston, MA, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

A Water Event of Global Proportions

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.03 earthquake, centered east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tohoku in Japan, triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 133 feet, moved portions of Japan by as much as 7.9 feet and shifted the Earth on its axis a distance estimated at between 4 and 10 inches.  Further magnifying the damage caused by the earthquake itself, the ensuing tsunami devastated the island country, leaving millions of people without homes, electricity and clean water and triggering nuclear meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In response to the tsunami, warnings were issued over the entire Pacific Ocean, including the coastal areas in most of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and western Alaska. Infrastructure damage and destruction from waves caused by the tsunami totaled hundreds of millions of dollars in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in Papua, New Guinea and in Hawaii.  The impact from the 2011 tsunami is still being felt right now, in February of 2013, almost two years from the date of the original event. Recent aerial photographs taken along the coast of Alaska reveal evidence of widespread debris washing ashore from the Japanese tsunami and posing an environmental hazard of significant proportions.


Debris Off the Coast of Alaska from Japanese Tsunami, 2013

Conceiving The Wave

Here, in Connecticut, my fellow artist, Elena, and I were literally ‘struck’ by our own visual images (a frequent occurrence for artists) of how that 2011 tsunami in Japan literally ‘connected’ us all to one another: this enormous wave originating across the world and traveling from continent to continent before washing up on own ‘front door.’ We talked about developing a project that would visually represent how dramatically we are all connected, regardless of our nationality, religious preferences, race or other artificial divisions, by our mutual dependence on water, one of the fundamental requirements for life on Earth.

During our conversations, we also discussed an appropriate medium for the project, which we eventually dubbed, The Wave. (Catchy, don’t you think?) Because we wanted to emphasize the universal nature of water, our individual and community responsibility to protect this vital resource and the theme of our ‘connectedness,’ we felt very strongly that it needed to be a community engagement, interactive, public art program.

The Function of Interactive Public Art

Public art is generally described as any work that is exhibited, and sometimes created, in public spaces so that it is accessible to the general public, not just those who frequent galleries and museums. We chose to create a public art project because, by it’s very purpose, public art is meant to enrich communities, provoke discussion and heighten awareness of significant public issues and events. An interactive, public art project enables members of the community, not just the artists, to participate in the creation of the work of art itself.  Interactive, public art inspires creativity among participants around a specific topic, generates community pride and fosters connections among the participants.

The Wave Design

We designed The Wave with these goals in mind. Because the material we use is especially unusual, enticing and beautiful and because it is so easy to simply cut a piece of it that evokes ‘wave’ according to the visitor’s interpretation, each individual coming to a Wave site can feel successful.  Children as young as five, entire school communities including parents, staff, teachers and students of all abilities and ages, adults who are normally intimidated by making art and seniors have all embraced the opportunity to ‘connect’ their pieces to the growing, glowing and undulating Wave that we hope will ‘roll’ right across the country and beyond. Since September of 2011, we have created seven installations in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York museums/galleries, parks and schools in the vicinity of water. People have asked us why we join the pieces with black parachute cord that shows so prominently as an integral part of the installation.  Why not use transparent fishing wire or some other invisible material? And, of course, that is the point. We are using the black cord to emphasize how this Wave is being created, piece by piece, connecting individuals, communities, states and hopefully, an entire nation, to one another.

The Wave, Kennedy Greenway, Boston2

Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Boston, MA, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

The Wave Blog: On Water and Public Art

Now that the project is gaining momentum and many new sites are being planned as we speak, we are taking this opportunity to initiate a blog on water and public art.  We’ll be posting stories, information and news that we find interesting and provocative on water issues and events, on other public art projects, on our experiences as we engage communities at Wave sites and on the progress of The Wave itself.  We welcome your comments, your personal water stories and your participation.