For my media analysis, I decided to look at John Sabraw’s toxic sludge paintings. Honestly, I had never heard of this before I researched this assignment but it is a very unique idea. By using toxic runoff found in the Ohio River, Sabraw produces his own pigments from the oxidized sludge of abandoned coal mines, he gets into the water’s heavy metals to produce beautiful bold colors such as red and yellow. Instead of importing iron oxide, he makes these pigments into acrylic and oil paints.
These coal mines fill up with rainwater and then becomes contaminated with toxic levels of heavy metals and acidity which slowly changes colors as the metals oxidize when coming into contact with oxygen. Sabraw teamed up with Guy Riefler, an environmental engineer who had already been studying these toxic wastes, and they take samples from the worst polluted areas, neutralize the pH, then they isolated the concentrated iron from the clean water, putting that clean water back into the stream. Their goal is to make the production of pigments from the sludge marketable, supporting the removal of pollutants to be its own industry, and then investing back into the streams remediation versus remaining an aquatic dead zone. Sabraw paints stories to express the sublimity of nature and our fragile relationship with it. From what I can tell from most of his paintings, he paints multiple different colored leaves, water, trees, and land.
These two paintings that I have listed above are from his Chroma series, he uses satellite images or zooms in on different types of leaves that are close up for the detail of color that is exceptionally vibrant and immense texture. Sabraw says, “I have chosen to use technological instruments through digital interface to draw these maps, e.g. laser cutters and computer driven routers, to burn or excavate natural materials, thereby enacting the very scorched earth practice of resource extraction in America”. One thing that I found very interesting was that he did not specialize in abstract art, he used an abstract method to convey more feeling and so that people could see these paintings in their own way. Sabraw’s work addresses serious issues of environmental sustainability in a way that is eye catching through beautiful colors and strong emotion.
From looking at these paintings, I believe the values that they are trying to convey is environmentalism, a service to others, sustainability, and efficiency. Not only is this idea creating works of art, it restores polluted streams, creates eco-friendly job opportunities, and gives us a new, sustainable way to make paint. I think people may understand this message differently because some may think of this as a local problem for the people dealing with this in Ohio, but in reality, it is a global issue because everything is connected. These streams are connected to other streams, rivers, and then they will eventually get into the ocean. Most people would look at this issue as a micro scale, but if you really think about it, everything joins on a macro system. This art sends a message that something so ugly for our environment, can turn into something so beautiful and sustainable, and that’s the positive input we need to create change for the health of ourselves, and our environment.