Janet Culbertson
I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania where canoe trips, hikes in the woods and climbing every tree in the fields was almost as exciting as trips to the cultural centers in Pittsburgh. A family vacation to Sag Harbor imprinted me with the vastness of the sands and ocean, which is probably why I eventually came back here to this island area to live. After high school I attended Carnegie-Mellon University and studied Painting and Design. I had a passion for exploration too and hitchhiked with a friend out West where the landscape of red mountains, wild pines and fragrant sage came as alive as the legends of the West. However I moved to New York City because it was the art center of the world. I experimented with many odd jobs until I finally earned my master's degree at New York University and subsequently found great pleasure in teaching college and in doing my own painting.

A high point in my life was camping and sailing through the Galapagos Islands with the "Friends of the Earth" and painting this last primordial place. We followed the trail of Darwin and reread the poetic stories of Melville. From this I developed a series of mural sized "burst ink" drawings of animals and paintings of these haunting islands.

In 1975 I developed a personal mythology for a woman hero (based on Joseph Campbell's monomyth) which dealt with her ecological commitment to nature. This series of 20 drawings called “Mythmaker” in the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC. Thanks to grants from the Ludwick Vogelstein and Puffin Foundations, the museum framed and exhibited this series in an exhibition depicting an eco-feminist point of view in 2004-05.

Whenever possible I took trips, drawing and photographing the Grand Canyon, Alaska, as well as parts of Mexico and Africa. Some of these sites became the focus for a series of collages, knife drawings, of "nature as Disney-fied scenes".

During the seventies I had four one-woman shows in New York City at the Lerner-Heller Gallery; received a C.A.P.S. New York state graphics award and exhibited in a number of group and museum shows; proposed and worked on the HERESIES Ecology Issue #13 along with a group of other concerned women. My article on Ecotage appears in this issue. Then in 1980, I was seriously injured in an auto accident, which interrupted my life and work for a number of years and added another dimension to my work.

In 1987 I began a series of billboard paintings, (that great American Icon that urges us to consume), contrasting the beauty of nature with our destruction of it. I searched for beautiful sites as well as the ubiquitous polluted areas–to paint, to photograph and to absorb. The number of "hotspots" in the world has now begun to outweigh the wild and unpolluted ones. Curiously, the Orwellian idea ("1984") of rewriting history comes alive in the Industrial "Parks" concept. Parks were idyllic green glades with streams and wildlife. Now vast fields of storage tanks filled with gas, oil, etc. are being called "Tank Farms", the land is sealed away in asphalt. Our air is polluted by chemicals, clear cutting is being called "making open space" and slaughtering animals, is called “harvesting”.

In the last years my Industrial Park works dealing with environmental destruction have won recognition; I was invited to have solo shows at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, the University of Nebraska, the University of Bridgeport and recently at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA., my home town.

I plan to continue painting these paradoxical aspects of the landscape in this series, as well as in "Overview", a group of 25 panels. These panels are more sculptural since they are composed of dimensional materials such as collage, iridescent pigments, glass chips and even creatures washed up on the beach. They are an overview of all of my work from the last twenty years.

Recently I have been working on a group of figures of enlarged women I call FLESHSCAPES I see their flesh as another form of landscape, textured mounds, valleys, pools. I also have experimented with a group of portraits of BAD GUYS. These include such notorious figures as Saddam, Ted, the Hitchhiker, politicians and various others.

My work is fueled by events of the day and when possible by taking trips to collect visual and scientific information about different areas of the world. I feel that art, whether beautiful or ugly, can be a force capable of creating a greater ecological awareness for the world.

 
Encaustic Art
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Using Color to Express Your Creativity
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How to make your own oil paints
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