This page will occasionally change with different words and artwork from cultures around the world relating to water and the environment. Please feel free to visit past posts about artists doing amazing WATER things here: Purna Bahadur Vaidya, Karen Jean Larson, and Karley Sullivan.
Rebecca Allan is an abstract painter and environmentalist. Her paintings are a testament to the beauty and drama of landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, Hudson River Valley, and along the Gulf Coast of Florida. In particular, Allan’s work addresses water, and it reflects her long-time study of rivers, aquifers, and glacial pools. Watershed landscapes are central to the artist’s work because, as she stresses, they are increasingly threatened by climate change and human demands. Whether hiking in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State or working along a stream in the Hudson River Valley, Allan has witnessed dramatic and complicated changes that are occurring as a result of these forces. What she observes there provides a framework for conceiving the images and forms of her paintings. Her observation of an ever-changing watershed gives rise to works of art that communicate the power of nature’s cycles as well as the interdependence of its ecosystems.
Allan believes artists can also play a vital role in service to their local communities. As vice-president of her cooperative apartment building in New York City, she worked to improve the sanitation and recycling practices of a community comprising 247 apartments in her building in the the Bronx. Her work in the environmental realm also extends to a musical-artistic-scientific collaboration known as The Crossroads Project profiled in The New York Times. Exhibiting in the United States and abroad for more than twenty-five years, her most recent solo exhibitions were presented at: Kean University Art Gallery, Hudson Opera House Gallery, ArtLab78 (New York), The American Church in Paris, Ringling College of Art and Design/Longboat Key Center for the Arts; Seattle Art Museum Gallery; John Davis Gallery (Hudson, NY); and Gallery 2/20 (New York). Allan has been a Fellow at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Dorland Mountain Arts Colony. Rebecca Allan’s website offers a comprehensive view of the scope of her work.
– Biography of Rebecca Allan adapted from her website.
Water as a Painter’s Metaphor: An Interview with Rebecca Allan
How did you first come to incorporate the life-force of water into your work as a visual artist?
I knew by the time I was 10 years old that I loved art and that I would most likely become an artist. My early memories of water have to do with the wonderful hikes my family took along the Ashtabula River and days spent on the beach of Lake Erie in Ohio. I was aware of the power of water as I watched the process of erosion, as the lake gradually pulled and dissolved rows of trees along an especially vulnerable cliff. I started consciously working with water when I moved to Seattle, and began to explore the rivers, lakes, and glaciers of the North Cascade Mountains. I was interested in the way that artists from the Northwest School (Morris Graves, Mary Randlett, James Lavadour) were working with the tremendous forces of fire and water that co-mingle in volcanic, mountain regions.
You use abstraction as a way to translate the natural world, often waterways, in your paintings. Why do you choose this language for your work? What flexibility in expression does it offer you?
There is a metaphorical dimension to my work that I believe is best expressed through the process of abstraction. Abstraction refers to the reduction of an experience to it most essential form(s), but not in the sense of a literary metaphor. For example, I am keenly interested in the behaviour of pigment (the physical form of color) as a parallel to the qualities of soil and water. Therefore I sometimes make my own paints with pigment and medium. Through coaxing, layering, and scraping through paint, I suggest the forces of weather and the things that shape and are shaped (or colored) by water: roots, boulders, silt, minerals, and animal and plant matter. I also think of the process of painting as a metaphor for reconciling the conflicts and painful circumstances of life. The sense of disorientation I sometimes feel when I paint is similar to the experience I have when I hike along mountain rivers, and when I approach glacial pools, and even when I come up onto the dizzying atmosphere of a New York City street as I emerge from the subway.
What does water mean to you?
Water is liquid memory and it is the permeable boundary of the landscape. Water occupies every level of space and every life form. We know that unless we are stewards of Earth’s water, life, as we know it cannot be possible.