John Sabraw, Leaves & Toxic Ooze
Raw, a bit dirty and pungent with a phantom smell of life, Resonance, a collection of paintings by artist John Sabraw, gets your hands right into the moist earth. Whether it’s a leaf viewed with inhumane proximity or abstract designs recalling corrosion and glaciers, the influence of nature is never far. Nature’s influence is closer still when considering the paints used to create these images.
In a collaboration between science and art, Sabraw and a fellow Ohio University professor, Guy Riefler, have taken toxic river water and turned it into viable pigments. The rivers, contaminated by improperly sealed coal mines, have long since been biologically dead, and heavy with metals and acid. Once in the lab, the innovative process separates the oxidized metals, and combines them with polymers and resins to create an acrylic paint. Sabraw now uses these paints in all his work and the team hopes to sell the acrylics at a commercial scale, providing funding to pay for the process to continue. A never-ending cycle, rich with benefits where it’s not just eradicating a problem, but finding a new purpose for the waste.
But this collection of paintings isn’t just a showcase for the acrylics. The thoughtful pairing of the paints themselves and the subject matter of the paintings carries a continuous environmental thread. A thread of accepting our own responsibility for protecting the nature we see every day. There’s nothing grand or romantic about these images. They are leaves, in the middle of transition, wrinkled and holey. It is a tree bark-esque pattern, perfectly chaotic and organic. Sabraw’s work commands a second glance through his use of color and texture that make these flat images vibrant with life.
An obscured Polaroid of a coral reef would be an image too majestic for anyone to deny it protection or at least a dollar donation, but these are the small things, the unremarkable, the things often forgotten on grand ventures to save the environment. The ordinary needs aide and attention too, even if it is just a dirty river or a dying leaf.
All Photos Courtesy of John Sabraw