Environmental Activism Through Art

Linda Gass is a textile artist. Her work blends painting and textile techniques to create multi-layered birds-eye view landscapes and maps showing the human marks that affect our water resources.

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When did you become interested in creating art about San Francisco Bay?

Whenever I flew over the Bay I would look down and wonder what are those wild colors and why are they there? In 2005 I was at a point where I was able to research it and learn more about it and then I wanted to make art about it.

What inspires you and why you are so drawn to the San Francisco Bay?

I make art about things that I am familiar with and know something about and because I live here that’s really what inspires me. It’s my backyard. It’s something I care very deeply about.

Many of your stitched paintings deal with land use concerns. How do you see your work connecting with advocacy efforts for a healthy San Francisco Bay?

I’m drawn to the human mark on the landscape. I’m interested in how those human marks affect our water resources. My Land Use Series came out of a talk I went to by the poet Gary Snyder. He posed this quiz to the audience called “How Local Are You?”, which asked questions like “do you know where your water comes from? Do you know where it goes when you’re done with it? Can you name 5 native grasses?”

Although I thought I knew the answer to these questions, when I fully tried to answer them I wasn’t quite sure and so that inspired me to research where my water goes when I’m done with it, where my garbage goes and where my gasoline gets refined. When I looked at all three of those, they were located right on the edge of the Bay, which made me wonder, is this a good site for these activities to be occurring?

Why is it important to consider how landscapes have changed over time and how do you illustrate these changes in your work?

I’m interested in the present day landscape. I’m also interested in how it used to look and I’m interested in how it could look in the future. I draw on historical photographs and maps to understand what the landscape used to look like. Looking at these maps and photographs could give us a clue of what those landscapes could look like in the future through restoration efforts.

How do you think that art can greater connect people to their local environment and aid in education about environmental issues?

I feel like art has great potential to touch people emotionally and in ways that maybe scientific facts don’t. Art can also be a gentle way to encourage people to become interested in something that could be a difficult topic. I try to encourage people to look at things in our environment that we have great potential to repair and restore. I use bright colors and textiles and I make my work beautiful to encourage people to look at it and then if they want to they can learn the story behind it. I’m trying to use beauty to encourage people to look at the hard issues that we face.

Why are you so drawn to the birds-eye/aerial view of landscapes?

The aerial perspective is just one that I particularly love. I don’t know if I was a bird in a past life but I love that view of the land and it’s also that view that enables me to see the patterns of our human marks.

Do you have any upcoming projects that our readers might be interested in learning about?

I was awarded an art and science residency with the Palo Alto Art Center and Junior Museum & Zoo. It’s a 5 month long residency called Creative Ecology. There are four artists who received the award and we will be doing our work sequentially.

There are three parts to the residency: the first part is spending a month exploring an open space area in or near Palo Alto with the community and an art educator from the Art Center and a science educator from Junior Musuem and Zoo. I chose Cooley Landing in East Palo Alto.

We’re going to explore Cooley Landing over three consecutive Saturdays. The public is welcome to join us at Cooley Landing July 11th, 18th and 25th from 10 am – noon. We’re also doing scheduled sessions during the week with youth groups. We’ll be doing art and science activities, looking very closely at the environment, using magnifying glasses and binoculars, and drawing and writing about what we see. We will examine water samples from the Bay using microscopes to see the different organisms living in the water. We will be making connections between art and science.

The second part of the residency is to make artwork based on the experience at Cooley Landing. I’ll have open studio hours at the Palo Alto Art Center where the public can drop in and observe me making my work. I’m hoping to also have set up a way for the public to make their own small silk paintings about Cooley Landing and hopefully that would then get turned into a community quilt. The third part of the residency is an exhibition of the work that I’ve created.

Linda Gass combines environmental activism and artmaking to bring awareness to land use and water issues in California.  She travels extensively in the wilderness areas of the West where she finds much of the inspiration for her work.  Linda exhibits her work internationally in museums and galleries and her art has been featured in a wide variety of books and magazines. To learn more about Linda, visit her website www.lindagass.com.