Cool hues of greens and blues fill the Five 15 gallery space, colors uncharacteristic for the desert landscape to which our eyes have become accustomed. Artist Wendy Willis uses this deceptively calm palette in reference to the ocean and the incalculable number of species that call it home. Specifically, she hopes to bring attention to our roles as consumers in jeopardizing the ocean’s ecosystem and consequently the lives of many of these beloved animals.
The work depicts sea turtles, parrotfish, convict tangs, and starfish in their natural habitat – the salty sea. Many of Willis’ images chose to confront the viewer with the harsh realities of our human impact. Fishing nets entangle endangered sea turtles, coral reefs erode, and what was once clear blue water becomes muddled with blacks and browns – a possible nod at the all too frequent oil spills occurring on our country’s coasts.
In CO 2 Emmissons, Willis depicts the well-known debaucherous New Orleans’ street sign, ‘Bourbon’, as it becomes enveloped in seaweed and kelp. The image paired with the title hints at a possible future reality for the swampy state. Louisiana may become fully immersed in water if serious changes in regulations of carbon emission aren’t made. Technically, Willis demonstrates a wealth of printmaking skills – from collages, to monotype printing, to diffused and reduction reliefs.
Atypical of her other more traditional prints that remain pressed against the 2D plane of the gallery wall, her series titled Dangers Ahead, incorporates a thin veil of cloth on the surface that drifts up and down with the fluctuating outdoor wind. This subtle addition allows the piece to enter the viewer’s space, creating a more sensory experience of the work. Like the unpredictable waves that make up the ocean, these pieces appear to be in a constant flux dependent on their immediate environments.
While work taking up the subject matter of sea life may seem disconnected from our everyday realities in the Sonoran Desert, underneath the surface Willis is speaking to something that will affect all no matter our location – climate change. Willis conveys a deep love for the beauty of the undersea world and our endangering of species that actually sustain us. Aesthetically interesting on the surface, Willis’ work at its core is a plea for us to make some serious changes to the way we treat our environment.