Painting with watercolors: An artist’s take on ecology

By Nicole Cox, Communications Fellow

She wonders over her own existence and over the delicate balance of sharing existence with other species.
She explores these curiosities out in the Foothills, Red Butte Creek, and the Salt Lake City Cemetery and then she runs and bikes, for miles.
She takes photos of her discoveries, and then she translates them into visual art.

Because sometimes images do speak louder than words.

Claire Taylor, a graduating Environmental Humanities Masters candidate, is exploring the power of images and art for her thesis project through a series of watercolors.

Taylor’s collection of watercolor paintings depicts the encounters she’s had and the relationships she’s built with the nonhuman species that inhabit the urban fringes. To accompany the visual component of her project, Taylor includes creative writing pieces, in which she offers her own interpretation of these shared moments in nature.

Her work focuses on the intersection of humans and wild spaces, in an attempt to interrupt the dualism between nature and culture. Where humans create a hierarchical construct that put us at odds within our own ecosystem, separating ourselves from the very components that make us living. Cells, matter — nature. We have a tendency to view nature as out there, beyond our urban lifestyle. This binary enables our own anthropocentrism; and Taylor is challenging it. She’s decentering the human in the nature/culture binary.

When I met with Taylor to discuss her work, she unwrapped what looked like potato skin fabric revealing the delicate visual essay featured below. She says “the rabbit skin looked like potato skin as it was decaying too.”

Rabbit Ecology is a chapter section of her final project. It’s a three-part essay, which tells the story of how Taylor witnessed the decomposition of a rabbit as it returned to the earth. The chapter is largely about what it means to question how death relates across species and whether anthropomorphism is helpful and accurate in understanding these questions.

In its many forms, the narrative evolves.

Taylor agreed to share a video reading of the visual essay, which reflects the interactive element of the first art piece in the series. 

Video audio: Removed from its former sentience this body is now decomposing at the bottom of Dry Creek Canyon. This Rabbit is dead.

Its state of existence is that of sustenance and growth for those that eat and absorb its flesh and bone. Its dispersing fur is now part of the landscape of its home.

In my mind and therefore in my rendition I see the rabbit in a sea of pink. Pink because my mother once told me to imagine myself within the light of love. And the color of that light was pink. 

The field of Environmental Humanities allows the space to explore these tenets of ecopsychology, specifically how we share and understand our experiences with, in, and around nature. “The idea is that by sharing my own beliefs that other organisms are equally important, my readers or audience may also begin to share those feelings as well,” Taylor concludes.

Her hope is that by fostering this idea of a shared existence, and extending our sense of community to include nonhuman animals, we are creating more value in the world.

Taylor was the recipient of the 2015 Friends of Red Butte Creek Research, Outreach, and Education Grant last Spring that allowed her special access to Red Butte Creek’s Research Natural Area to conduct fieldwork. She recently displayed her work “Animal Encounters: Artwork of the Wildlife of Red Butte Creek” at the GCSC Environment and Sustainability Symposium. Visit her website to see more.

Nicole Cox is a graduate student in Environmental Humanities and a graduate assistant in the Sustainability Office.

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