Stylish environmental art by the talented and very fun environment artist, Josh Keyes, may also be a not-so-fun slap in the face.

Artists, who paint the truth are just gross, right? They’re just like people who don’t flush after they pee. The environment artist who is creating environmental art with the truly pertinent issues in the backs of their mind is the one that gets eyes rolled at and quickly passed by in the galleries. They’re like the people canvassing who just want to stop whaling and shark finning but are avoided on the street like the plague. A jaw-dropping environment painting by Josh Keyes (b. 1969) impresses and astonishes viewers with style, but annoys and pesters them with very real issues. But these are the truly great artists. They bring both beautiful and sublime images to the world as well as important conversations to the dinner table. Josh Keyes uses beautifully impossible juxtapositions to depict possible and inevitable truths in environmental issues art.

Environmental Art

Josh Keyes. Pursuit. Acrylic on birch panel.

The Environment Artist

The sharp, clear, and stunning visual vocabulary that is seen in his environmental art and environment painting comes from many years of education. This environment artist was awarded a BFA at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1992 and an MFA at Yale in 1998. He surrounds himself with environmental issues art. He was born in Tacoma, Washington. Keyes has lived in Oakland, California and Portland, Oregon (ThinkSpace). This combination of education and environmental issues art are makes Keyes able to articulate beauty and truth in his environmental issues art.

Environment Artist

Josh Keyes. Island, 2009. 30″ x 40″. Acrylic on birch.

Broken Environmental Art

In a sublime piece of environmental art by Josh Keyes, Island (2009), environmental crisis and abuse stand out. The artwork measures 30 by 40 inches and is made from acrylic on birch which, combined with the title, already alludes to nature. But the whole thing is like walking past a natural sciences exhibit inside the local science museum instead of an enormous environment painting. A rectangular prism of water with no walls and only a few subtle ripples, undoubtedly from the museum’s air conditioning, stand still. It would be otherwise lifeless if it were not for the giant shark swimming motionless against the fake current. The beast consumes most of the water on the canvas but viewers can make out a few fish and, of course, the abandoned and abused sculpture behind it. The environment artist adds, half submerged in the shark’s water, a sculpture with a stone base that has been vandalized either by the children visitors of the science museum or graffiti artists of a now drown civilization. Three metal cast soldiers jut out from the water and, “united they conquer.” One soldier looks to the sky in the viewer’s space proudly with only his feet wet and only a modest-size bird’s nest on his head. The occupant can be seen soaring also motionless almost off the canvas. The strokes of paint are fairly smooth and realistic in appearance. In this environmental issues art, not only are there icons of wildlife and ecology, but a small glimpse of humans and their destruction.

Environment Painting

Josh Keyes. Tangled IV, 2011. 30″ x 40″. Acrylic on birch panel.

Oakland, California-based artist, Josh Keyes uses his enigmatic graphic wit to describe a world of micro landscapes and dissected ecosystems.” -GreenMuseums.org

The arrangement of images in Island is clever but less entertaining as it makes people aware of a volatile issue via environmental art. The whole scene has been removed like an ice cube from its tray. The cut-up feeling of the environment painting leaves viewers with thoughts of how politicians are happy to allow companies to cut up the landscape for precious resources. The ice cube is fresh water that’s too often filled and polluted, trees that are cut down, and air that is polluted that should, for the most part, be left in its pristine habitat comfortably sitting in the freezer. The graffiti added by the environment artist is perhaps the most creative and entertaining design of the work but leaves a bitter taste in the viewers’ mouths as well. Many see tags and graffiti lettering as an act of disrespect and disregard to otherwise pristine settings. While it seems funny to see something that looks like it belongs in a museum covered in red graffiti lettering, it’s actually quite relevant to the atrocious regard most have towards their natural environment. Josh Keyes’ uses these stylish and brilliant compositional elements in his environmental issues art to create a more serious tone, one that is pertinent to contemporary times and environmental stress.

Environmental Issues Art

Josh Keyes. Can You Hear Me Now?, 2017. 14″ x 18″. Acrylic on panel.

Realistic Environment Painting

Can You Hear Me Now? (2017), like much of the environmental art by the environment artist, Josh Keyes, again uses graffiti in this photograph of the future. This realistic environment painting measures 14 by 18 inches and is made of acrylic on wood panel. It’s hard to decipher if the image has the realness of a photograph at first… which just makes it seem more real. The realism of the piece adds credibility to the subject matter. Of course, viewers look at the iconic image of a satellite dish. The dusty yellow grass and shadowy distant hills give viewers a feeling of desolate loneliness. But the most striking element in this environmental issues art is, of course, the bright and colorful graffiti painted all around the dish. Viewers can almost see the ghosts of the rebels who once climbed up the dish to paint the lettering, but they are no more. Everyone has seen that the dishes are pristine and white and here they stand vandalized. This wild scenario where authority and government and technology ceases to function exists boldly in this art.

Environmental Art

Josh Keyes. Descent, 2016. 8″ x 10″. Acrylic on birch panel.

This strange combination of graffiti and the wild depicts a grim future for the human race. Again images of graffiti elicit feelings of coarse disregard and contempt towards nature in this environmental art. But Can You Hear Me Now? comes with a warning label. It’s hard not to notice the absence of humans despite their dusty tags hanging all over everything. The warning label reads, “If you keep it up, move along.” It’s hard to listen to warnings while drown by rising sea levels or on the next planet over destroying resources just as one did on Earth. Perhaps human life in this environment painting by environment artist, Josh Keyes, has completely perished due to starvation or has just moved on to another world, but the desolate feeling still exists. Weather people have moved on or are just plain dead, the environmental issues art shouts at the viewers to really try and take to heart the warnings of climate change. Josh Keyes uses these compositions to insist that if nothing is done people won’t have a place on this planet.

Environmental Art

Josh Keyes. I’ll Melt With You, 2016. 12″ x 16″. Acrylic on birch panel.

Conclusion

The majority might disregard this environmental art. They’ll scoff and perhaps even cry out in rage at the environment artist. The general public might not even begin to understand why it is so vital for this environment painting art to be seen by society. But it doesn’t matter as long as the environmental issues art is here. As long as they’re being made, people are a step closer to their old friend Mr. Common Sense. The world needs a slap in the face. Well, at least they need more emotion, more anger, and more critical subject matter in the form of paint on canvas. They need jest on canvas and less in the courtrooms. Josh Keyes is using his work to start these crucial dialogues between people and their representatives. These beautiful combinations of funny scenarios aren’t just for people’s amusement. The juxtapositions are warnings of an approaching and dangerous future.

Sources

  • “Josh Keyes.” Greenmuseums.org. greenmuseum.org/artist_index.php?artist_id=110.
  • “Josh Keyes.” ThinkSpace. thinkspacegallery.com/artists/josh-keyes.

Written by

Topher is the founder and editor of Culture Hog Magazine. He studies art history and works at the Oakland Museum of California. Topher values strong community and worldwide healing and progress via the arts.

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