Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Artist tackles impact of climate change with paintings

lost beauty climate change

Alberto Rey admires how artists of the Hudson River School brought the vastness of the United States — then unchartered wilderness — into homes across the country. 

“They used to go out with scientists to explore their environment and make that information accessible to the public,” said Rey, an artist and professor at SUNY Fredonia. “I’ve always had a love for the sciences and history, and it seems like art is a good way to make complicated issues accessible.” 

Rey’s “Lost Beauty,” an exhibition sponsored by Southern Adirondack Audubon Society, will run Feb. 3 through April 14 in SUNY Adirondack’s Visual Arts Gallery. The show includes Rey’s examination of Iceland’s changing icebergs, the impact of a river’s pollution on surrounding communities and studies of extinct bird specimens.  

“As the majority of the population in the United States moved from rural areas to urban areas, they’ve lost their connection to the environment,” Rey said. “And I think losing that connection is one of the reasons why we aren’t aware of what’s happening in our local areas and, if we don’t know what’s happening in our local environment, we’re less likely to understand what’s happening globally.” 

In his “Iceberg” series, Rey studies the impact of climate change on icebergs in Iceland. “The ones I painted are now all gone,” he said. “I portrayed them with minimal light source, almost like they’re being lost in the dusk, lost in their own environment.”

In works drawn from “Biological Regionalism: Bagmati River, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal,” Rey focuses on Nepal’s Bagmati River, which has been ecologically decimated by systematic pollution and lack of government regulation, and the underrepresented people who live along and depend upon it.

bird painting

Works from Rey’s “Extinct Bird Project” feature birds from museum collections. “I’m not just looking at the species, but I am looking at this specific specimen,” he said. “I am personalizing it by studying that specimen: Where did it come from? How was it collected? Who collected it and how did it end up at a shelf in this museum?”

Rey laments the fact that as U.S. wilderness became more accessible, the nation’s citizens began to have less of a connection with nature.  

“A lot of what the artist is conveying in his artwork is very important to our mission,” said John Loz, chair of Audubon New York Council of Chapter’s board of directors. “Not only do we advocate for birds and bird habitats, but overall we are advocating for nature and we’re very concerned about climate change and the impact it has on all wildlife.” 

The Southern Adirondack Audubon Society offers programming to educate about and promote preservation of native bird species and their habitats. The group organizes lectures, workshops for children, bird watches, bird surveying, events throughout the region and literature about the importance of native plants and healthy environs for birds and other pollinators. 

“Art has a different type of impact for the viewer,” Loz said, explaining the group’s decision to sponsor “Lost Beauty.” “How do we convey the emergency in climate change, in what we want to protect, what we love, and spark interest and action in people viewing the art to protect what we have now so we don’t lose any birds to extinction?” 

That concept is one close to Rey’s belief that art can educate and inspire about environmental issues.  

“That’s what I’m trying to do: re-sensitize people to the environment,” Rey said. “There is potential for everybody to appreciate what they have in their own backyards and to become a steward to protect it.

Related events

Reception, artist talk and book signing — 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 3: SUNY Fredonia’s Alberto Rey, distinguished professor of art, will sign books at the unveiling of “Lost Beauty” in SUNY Adirondack’s Visual Arts Gallery, Dearlove Hall.

Animal Extinction — 12:40 to 1:40 p.m. Wednesday, March 9: Professor of science Thomas Mowatt will discuss extinction in the natural world in SUNY Adirondack’s Visual Arts Gallery, Dearlove Hall.

Film series and panel discussion — 12:40 to 1:40 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, SUNY Adirondack’s Visual Arts Gallery, Dearlove Hall.

About the artist 

Alberto Rey was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States in the mid-1960s. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in Fine Art from University at Buffalo. In the mid-1980s, he had his first solo exhibition in New York City at the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art (MoCHA). He became a professor at SUNY Fredonia in 1989, earning the Hagan Young Scholar/Artist Award for distinguished researched/creative activity, the Kasling Lecturer Award for distinguished research/creative activity and the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activity. He is director of Chautauqua Center of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution, served on NYSCA’s Artist’s Advisory Panel of the New York Foundation for the Arts and in 2007 was promoted to SUNY Distinguished Professor for Research and Creative Activity. His works are included in the collections of El Museo del Barrio, Albright-Knox Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Bronx Museum of Art. He is an avid angler and, in 2021, was named Orvis Guide of the Year. 

Image credits

Lost Beauty: Icebergs XV. 19” x 36”; Oils on Wooden Panel; Artist: Alberto Rey

Alaotra Grebe (Tachybaptus rufolavatus) II. Specimen Number: 78208, female; Institutional Collection: Ornithology Department, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University; Collection Site: Sahabe River, Madagascar; Collection Date: Sept. 25, 1915; Specimen Collector: Frederick R. Wulsin; Artist: Alberto Rey

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