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‘Climate Changed’ art features environmental threats

Magda Liska, left, and Lib Elder with their work, currently on display at the CVCC Appomattox Center through the end of January. This body of work is part of their global warming series. All of the materials used in the series -- and, for the most part, the work both Elder and Liska create -- are recycled, from the canvasses to the things they attached to them. (Photo: Casey Gillis)

APPOMATTOX, Va. (AP) — The work in Magda Liska and Lib Elder’s global warming series ruminates on both natural and man-made disasters, from tornados and tsunamis to oil spills.

“Twister,” for instance, features acrylic paint swirled into what appears to be a tornado — with a variety of objects attached to the canvas, swept up inside a funnel cloud — while “Pipeline” features gloomy skies above an oil spill, an erupting volcano painted between them.

Liska has spent years volunteering in animal hospital transportation for the Wildlife Center of Virginia and remembers “when we started getting the oiled birds,” from oils spills, she says.

“I see the impact really on the front row,” she says, noting another animal the center helped, a bald eagle with lead poisoning that eventually had to be euthanized.

“Pipeline” is, she says, her commentary on the controversies surrounding various proposed pipelines and her way of communicating “you can put the pipeline in . but here’s the storm that’s coming. We’re believers in unintended consequences.”

Liska, who studied art and art history at the University of Maryland and also took ecology classes, says the series is partly inspired by warnings she remembers from those days, with predictions about what could happen to the environment if it wasn’t taken care of.

“What I see now is the fruition coming a lot faster than the predictions,” she says. “. (There’s) so much from our past that comes crashing into our present.”

Work from the “Climate Changed” series is currently on display at the Central Virginia Community College Appomattox Center, which began showing art in its lobby at the end of the summer, says Director Sue Cochrane.

“(The) main campus has a really strong art program,” Cochrane says. “. We don’t have art students here, so I couldn’t draw on student art. And we have this beautiful lobby.”

Cochrane has her sights set on expanding the exhibit space down an adjacent hallway and likes the potential it creates for staff and students.

“There’s always the opportunity for a teacher to incorporate it into their class,” she says. “There’s nothing that says the English professor can’t say, ’I want you to write a composition about (that work of art).”

The work of Elder and Liska, created in Elder’s EyeDooArt Studio in Pamplin, is full of conversation starters, from the mounted fish head Elder painted gold and dubbed “Georgette” to Liska’s “Room with a View,” featuring the aftermath of a volcano eruption. Buildings swirl within the lava, and a pair of plastic skeleton hands reach up from the bottom of the canvas.

Most of the work is full of hidden imagery and items the artists have gathered over the years, from jewelry that once belonged to Elder’s mother to an old belt of Liska’s.

Elder jokes that “borderline hoarding” runs in her family; her “Narcissi Vision” is styled to look like an old-fashioned TV set, with a mirror where the screen would be.

“I toted a TV screen around for years, just waiting to make this piece,” says the artist, who moved to Gladys in 2002 and then Pamplin in 2010. “I always knew it would be this.”

The exhibit features a mix of paintings, glass work and mixed media created by both women.

“Some are hers, and some are mine and we go across the table constantly,” Liska explains of their collaborative process, sharing materials and inspirations.

They, along with three other women, regularly come together at EyeDooArt to “share ideas and to create art and craft together,” according to an email promoting the show.

It’s an arrangement Liska, who lives in Gladstone, describes as “just so empowering. . (We) all bring something to the table.”

All of the materials used in the series — and, for the most part, the work both Elder and Liska create — are recycled, from the canvases to the things they attach to them.

They seek out old and unfinished paintings from Goodwill, the Salvation Army and even the occasional dumpster dive, or from friends who donate to the cause, and paint over them. “Just Bee Kind” was a very traditional still life painting featuring a vase full of flowers until Liska got her hands on it. She painted over parts of the original piece, adding 3-D flowers and cut-outs of Dr. Seuss characters, among other elements.

“I’m admittedly bored by flat landscapes now,” Liska says. “. I’m just ready to glue stuff on there.”

“Twister” was created by Elder, who grew up in Northern Virginia, when she was 12 years old. “It never seemed complete to me. But you don’t throw away canvas.”

It now has new life, enhanced with a variety of mixed media and the addition of a glass matte and glass frame created by Liska, who says she likes to “bust out with new frame ideas.”

Everything attached to the piece “Wipeout,” by Liska, came from the ocean; the shells you’d expect, but also things that shouldn’t be there: plastic cutlery, coins, even a small light bulb, all attached to a massive wave rising up the side of the painting.

Elder’s “I’d Turn Back If I Were You” began its life as a landscape painting of a wooded area. She started to cover it in black chalkboard paint when inspiration hit: “I got to this point and was like, ’I kind of like that right there.”

Now the original wooded scene remains, with swaths of black paint on the top and bottom of the canvas, a beehive pattern stenciled in the top left corner and the painting’s title scrawled in chalk in the bottom left. A small birds’ nest rests on a tree branch extending out from the canvas, not far from three dead bumblebees she attached to the piece to look as if they’re flying straight at you. There are also arms coming out of the trees, one holding a small stop sign.

“The woods are saying, ’Stop, stop,’” Elder says. “And we’re not.”

Liska’s “Last Call” — featuring a naked woman sitting on a bar stool, wearing nothing but a bit of jewelry and a pair of blue knee-high stockings — sits across from “I’d Turn Back If I Were You.” Liska calls it a self-portrait, but she’s not the nude — she’s the masked bartender standing behind the woman.

It’s set in a bar in New Orleans that was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. “(I thought), ’Maybe that’s what the last night (there) was like,” Liska says.

The bar is bordered in one of Liska’s old silk skirts, and the nude woman is wearing a necklace that belonged to Elder’s mother.

The pieces have a serious message but that doesn’t mean Liska and Elder don’t have fun with it: One of the woman’s breasts is a broken headlight with a small cocktail stirrer resting inside of it.

“We make art because we enjoy what we’re making,” Elder says. “We need to make them. We have to.”

At this point, Liska chimes in, noting “we just don’t do pretty art.”

“See,” Elder responds, “I think we do. But we do thought-provoking art. . My thing is, first, to make you laugh. Then go deeper.”

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