Environmental Artists: The Color Green

Part of “Best of Chicago Art Magazine,” originally published December 6, 2010.

Yolanda Green

Sustainable art is a loud voice in a crowd of environmental enthusiasts, producing work often with the hope of moving people into action. We live in a culture that strives for eco-sensitivity and people often wish to educate themselves about the problems that affect our environment. Art is a guaranteed way to make a statement and draw attention to these very important issues. Here are some local sustainable artists you should know.

Andy Holck

Andy Holck

In 2003, inspired by the Iraq war, Andy Holck produced a series called “Imperial Plants,” a collection that juxtaposes humanity’s destructive tendencies with the sometimes fragile aspects of nature. Reflecting back on the series, Holck says, “The most exciting result of this was the new forms that seemed to come out of nowhere.”

With a bachelor’s degree in Geology from the University of Iowa, Holck is also interested in exploring how technology and the environment can collide within his paintings. Holck has shown his art at the Chicago Art Department’s “Great Lakes Nation” exhibition and is now turning his painting concepts into illustration and design work. To see more of his work, visit iconolater.com.

Lisa Korpan

Nick Adams and Lisa Korpan

Lisa Korpan, who teaches interior architecture and foundations design at Columbia College, uses water itself as a way to get people to pay attention to our great lake. In the past, she’s assisted artist Nick Adam in using water to write simple messages on cement walls, a re-adaptation of graffiti art that is only temporary. Once the water evaporates, the image and message is gone, thus emphasizing how easily we can lose access to such an abundant resource.

Korpan helped place messages made of ice cubes along Lake Shore drive and filmed them melting. As one of many projects in a workshop entitled A Call to Action: A Moving Design Intervention on Water, the mission was “to create works that would start a conversation by engaging people’s curiosity.”

To see more of her work visit www.lisakorpan.net and http://www.itsourwater.org/.



Jane Palmer and Marianne Fairbanks, together called JAM, are two entrepreneurs dedicated towards promoting a sustainable daily life through their work, teachings, and art. Their biggest project is Noon Solar, company that produces handbags which contain sustainable features, including solar panels that function as a power source for small electronic devices such as cell phones. Last year, these bags were displayed in the traveling exhibition “Beyond Green toward a Sustainable Art.”

JAM also created a class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago called “Sustainable Forms” that informs students of artistic alternatives to pursue instead of the typical gallery and art show exhibitions. In a statement for the “Beyond Green toward a Sustainable Art” exhibition, they explained, “we can encourage students to make their work accessible to a broad audience by being socially and locally relevant, politically engaged, and generous…this independence provides freedom to think creatively and critically about their role as artists.”

To see more of their designs, visit http://www.noonstyle.com.

Matt Wizinski

Also for the Great Lakes Nation exhibition, designer Matt Wizinski presented “Illuminations,” a project which displayed several projected messages by the Chicago River. In order to raise awareness about the river’s reversal and the harm it causes to the environment, the project functioned as a disruptive reminder for people walking by. Each message served as a unique, bold attempt to draw attention to the cause as well as the river itself, one of Chicago’s most breath-taking natural attractions, along with Lake Michigan.

Illuminations: A Call to Action from matt wizinsky on Vimeo.

Also a participant of A Call to Action: A Moving Design Intervention on Water, Wizinski uses his background in design to send a message. He runs Studio Junglecat, a company that designs art exhibitions as well as other projects, and has a passion for collaborating with other creative minds in order to shape our culture and environment through art.

Sabrina Raaf

Sabrina Raaf

Human interaction with a piece of art has the potential of creating new works of art as well as functional art. In Sabrina Raaf’s latest installation in experimental sculptural media and photography, the artist explores the rising issue of water depletion in some areas of the world and the concept of water harvesting. The project is called “(n)-Fold” and through it, Raaf presented a practical form that lends itself to dew harvesting, since there are few water harvesting techniques available that don’t require the use of a pitched roof – a method that proves difficult if the water needs to be used for drinking.

In 2006, Raaf also created “Translator II: Grower,” an installation involving a small vehicle that had the ability to detect the amount of carbon dioxide within a room. The vehicle circled the room’s perimeter and marked the white walls with a green crayon (creating “grass”), indicating the CO2 amount.

As an assistant professor of art and design at the University of Illinois in Chicago, Raaf wants her work to “heighten people’s awareness of the social space they share.” To see more of her work, visit http://www.raaf.org.

Dan Peterman

Internationally known artist Dan Peterman uses recycled materials to display usefulness and beauty in objects that people throw away. His complete collection of work critiques wastefulness and puts a spotlight on how functional discarded plastic, aluminum, and other forms of garbage are, if effort is put into their transformations. This past summer, Millennium Park displayed Peterman’s two hundred foot long picnic table, made completely out of milk cartons.

His artistic career has stretched over 20 years and he has made art from many unlikely materials, including sandbags, shopping carts, cell phones and used furniture. He currently is a professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. See his works via Andrea Rosen Gallery.

Nance Klehm

Nancy Klehm

As a designer, teacher and landscaper, Nance Klehm uses her work to bring attention to the land and how people use its resources. Her efforts contain a mix of functional practicality and aesthetic artistry, most of which serve to help communities in both social and environmental contexts. She has hosted projects in different parts of the nation, including LA, but many of her efforts are centered in Chicago. She has helped facilitate one of the nation’s largest shelters for the homeless in Chicago (Chicago’s Pacific Garden Mission) as well as designed and managed Greenhouses of Hope, in order to teach local residents about farming.

As for her art, Klehm created an exhibition entitled “Collection Suit/Dispersal Suits” for the I-Space Gallery that showcased garments made to collect and distribute native and wild plant seeds. Each suit sprouted seeds within the gallery, without the use of soil.

She currently lectures and runs her gardening company, located in Chicago. For more of Klehm’s projects, visit http://spontaneousvegetation.net.