Art and the environment are coming full circle for Monica Gewurz. For her, the natural world is more than an inspiration for her painting. It influences the very nature of the purpose of art and how it is created.
That purpose is to use art as a vehicle to highlight how humanity has changed the environment.
“I believe that art can and must play an important role in conveying the environmental action narrative,” Gewurz says.
Using mixed media, she often uses manufactured objects to bring texture to her pieces, inviting people to not only look at them, but to touch as well.
Mixed media means different things to different artists, she says. While it can a simple blend of different types of paint for one individual, Gewurz brings a combination of the natural and the manufactured, mixing paint with sand, gravel and even natural pigments.
All of this goes into the landscapes and abstract paintings she creates. In this, her passion for the environment even influences what she ends up with on the canvas.
“Landscape and environment has been the inspiration of art since the cavemen. The cave paintings,” Gewurz says. “It was a man’s interpretation of what surrounded him, expressing fear and expressing admiration.”
Gewurz has also embarked on a change in how her painting affects the environment through the materials that are used, such as the amount of plastic in acrylic paints.
“I want to use more sustainable materials,” she says. “So, learning how much plastic ends up in the ocean—there’s macro-plastics, there’s nano-plastics, little tiny particles—and a lot of it is being washed down through the sewer, including paint.”
One way she has started to use it to change where the pigment she uses comes from. This includes using environmentally friendly materials such as vegetables and minerals, soot and charcoal, metallic foils, and coffee grinds.
“So, I am looking, not to 100 per cent replace it, but to start using what the cavemen used, natural pigments.”
It is impossible to completely replace everything used in art today with sustainable materials. The main problem, Gewurz says, is in the binders, the material that holds the pigment.
The techniques to create natural-based paints are not taught anymore, she says.
“A lot of that knowledge is lost. They don’t teach you that in university.”
And this is where the full circle comes into play for Gewurz, where she brings out the scientist in her. Through exploration and experimentation, she is learning how to use natural pigments and how to have these pigments be able to survive year after year. The hope is this knowledge helps to raise environmental awareness.
“You have to experiment and see how it plays out,” Gewurz says.