Artist Jennifer Cronin said the idea to paint landscapes of a remote Alaskan village came to her when she was working on a project about foreclosed and abandoned homes in Chicago.
“I found myself becoming interested in these disappearing landscapes and places that are in transition,” Cronin said. “And trying to create a record of these places.”
Those records are seen in the form of paintings and screen prints in the new exhibition “Seen and Unseen” at Elephant Room Gallery in Chicago’s South Loop.
Newtok, Alaska, a village of Yupic Eskimos on the western coast of the U.S., is shrinking because of rapid erosion. There have been plans for residents to move further inland, but the residents are very connected to the land, Cronin said. “The idea of them just moving to Anchorage or some other city doesn’t really work for them in maintaining their culture.”
One of the paintings in the exhibition captures the dichotomy of childlike innocence among the dangerous impact of climate change. Cronin said the pastel-colored scene of an old bike partially submerged in what looks like a swamp stayed with her when she returned to Chicago. “I just found it to be powerful to see pieces of the humanity that is there,” Cronin said. “Juxtaposed with this place that’s right on the edge of experiencing this erosion caused by climate change.”
The artist said she wants visitors to the exhibition to see the effects climate change has on real people, a reality that goes beyond the rhetoric that she said dominates the news. Cronin said the idea is to “give people a space to think about what’s happening to our planet without so much noise and fear.”
She added that the gallery space, surrounded by landscapes of a place far from Chicago, will allow visitors to slow down and think about what’s happening beyond their own experience. “For me, my language is visual, my language is painting, and I’m trying to use that language to communicate something that is very pressing to me.”
“Seen and Unseen” runs through July 27 at Elephant Room Gallery in Chicago’s South Loop.
Carrie Shepherd is a news reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @cshepherd.