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      When thousands of fish died in Lake Erie in 2014, I began investigating water damage in local waterways, the Great Lakes and the Pacific Gyre. I learned that on a tiny islandwildlife refuge in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, tens of thousands of pounds of new garbage piles up every year. Ships cause 20% of the garbage while 80% comes from litter, industrial discharges, agricultural runoff, and garbage mismanagement. Twenty-eightmillion tons of plastic bags find their way into our oceans, lakes and waterways each year.  Through wind and wave action each of these bags breaks down into micro plastics. These plastics are eaten by fish, gets into our drinking water, or is transported thousands of miles to the Pacific gyre or other vortexes in each lake, sea, and ocean in the world. As the personal is political, my research convinced me to become an environmental artist. 

            As I slowly began immersing myself in water pollution issues and Eco art, my mediums began to change. Abstracted water became the motif in all of my art, whether it was in the form of waves, bubbles, waterways, or the sea. My first Eco art oil paintings were of fish mired in algae water infused with pollutants.  Feeling that I needed to move to more environmentally sound materials I began fashioning paintings of abstracted water from repurposed polyethylene bags. Because polyethylene bags have an intrinsic beauty in them these “plastic bag paintings” were both aesthetically pleasing yet spoke to the horrific problem of plastics filling the oceans. These large paintings used an average of 300 plastic bags, the minimum number of polyethylene bags the average person uses each year.  I enjoyed the dichotomy of creating something reminiscent of natural water from repurposed artificial materials. 

            Working with repurposed plastics and gel mediums did not feel very environmentally sound to me however.  I had problems controlling the plastics from flitting out the open door of my studio into the garden and the gel medium would get on my clothes and be washed into the water system when the clothes were cleaned. I took the next step to create art that could decay and be naturally reabsorbed into the earth rather than to try to halt degradation forever. I included a larger percentage of biodegradable materials than before. Then I discovered papermaking. It is one of the most environmentally sound art mediums. Part of me still wanted to continue with my plastic in water motifs. So I infused polyethylene into the paper to show the dissonance of the natural and the artificial mixed together. I have been experimenting with combining other mediums in the paper such as marbling ink and strings while continuing to play with water pollution themes. 

            Since I wanted to work large scale because of the enormity of the problem of pollution, I made a paper mold and vat to make paper that was up to 36 x 82 inches in size. I experimented with kozo, Japanese gampi, iris and day lily leaves from my garden as well as other paper pulps. Instead of the plastic based PEO favored by many papermakers I began to use natural ingredients such as okra and aloe. 

            In papermaking water became a physical aspect of my art that needed to be dealt with. Such a large papermaking vat needed a lot of water to make paper. I fit the vat with a drain and a large tub underneath so that I could recycle the water back and forth with a pump. More clean water was added as the water was used or evaporated. Thus, I have found my way into creating ecologically sound, biodegradable art with natural and repurposed materials and virtually no wasteful byproducts. These abstracted water themed pieces of art can be either functional hanging in front of a window as a shade or a beautiful tapestry wall hanging. Scraps are made into journals. Each art piece speaks to the beauty of water and the importance of caring for our water both in the abstract and in practice.

 

"Water is the driving force in nature."

Leonardo da Vinci

Sandra Hansen