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The heat is on as exhibition focuses on climate change

SANTA FE, N.M. — Wax paintings of rising shorelines, forest fires, melting icebergs and species die-offs were all chosen for the Museum of Encaustic Art’s new juried exhibition titled “Global Warming is Real.”

The exhibition, which debuts with a reception Saturday, features nearly 40 pieces from artists across the U.S., and one from Quebec, who made pieces in the ancient encaustic style, fusing and overlaying hot wax with colors.

The show’s criteria called for art related to the topic of global warming through a more specific topic, such as effects on the ocean or wildlife. The exhibit’s selections were chosen from more than 100 submissions.

Though the Encaustic Art Institute has done juried shows previously, this is the first since the institute added its museum in March.

Did the museum choose global warming because it’s currently a hot-button political issue?

Douglas Mehrens, the museum’s owner and Encaustic Art Institute founder, said he didn’t create the show to be political and it won’t have references to President Donald Trump, who recently pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord.

He said he chose global warming because he feels artists should be discussing it. “It keeps getting more and more evident that it’s true, but so many people don’t accept it,” Mehrens.

“As a museum, we wanted to do a show and we’re going to keep doing shows [that are] not political, but on topics that artists should be involved in.”

Louise Casselman, a Santa Fe-based artist, created an abstract piece depicting endangered species, with a small, bright figure in the middle surrounded by black, grey and other neutral pigments. She said it’s difficult for artists to comment on issues when the effects aren’t as easily noticeable in everyday life.

Global warming is “an amazing topic that concerns the world only in a fleeting way,” Casselman said. “It concerns a lot of people, but it’s not like it’s something they really understand.”

Alongside the paintings, Mehrens said the museum will display articles from science journals and reports related to the images.

Although Mehrens is downplaying politics, California-based artist Heidi Rufeh said she was inspired to create her piece, “Levels Rising,” about growing sea levels, because the government isn’t taking the issue seriously and she’s concerned about “ignorance.” She hopes people who come and see the show leave ready to “deal with this matter rather than putting it under the rug.”

“There are so many deniers; that is churning inside of me,” said Rufeh. “We can’t ignore the problem.”

For at least one artist, the issue is beyond politics. Carol Mell of Rio Rancho, who used wax and horse hair to depict electrical poles on a landscape, said global warming is a spiritual topic to draw from because of the way it connects people and nature. The poles in her piece are meant to symbolize that connection, the way electricity goes from one place to another.

“Something like global warming maybe is the first big wake-up call [for humans] that we all live on a little island that we share,” said Mell. “Our actions reverberate in ways we can’t see or imagine.”

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