6 Innovative Artists of the Environmental Art Movement

Photo: Benjamin Von Wong

Earlier this year, the European Union voted for a sweeping ban on single-use plastic in a bid to reduce ocean plastic pollution. But it’s not just politicians doing their part to protect our planet – artists work just as hard to raise awareness of environmental issues, evoke change and document the beauty of the world before it’s too late.

the environmental art movement emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s and primarily celebrates the artist’s connection with nature. Pioneers of the movement such as Nils-Udo became famous for creating site-specific sculptures and installations from found natural materials and then documenting his works with photography. While earlier artists like Udo celebrated the beauty of nature, many artists today use a wide range of media, techniques and styles to address social issues and the negative impact we as people have. human beings have on our planet.

Nils Udo

Nils-Udo, Nest

German artist Nils-Udo celebrates the beauty of nature by working with found materials, such as leaves and branches, to create stunning site-specific works. He is known for creating “utopias” that transform the earth into mysterious, dreamlike realms. From delicately arranged petals scattered across the surface of a pond to dramatic nests formed from twigs, leaves and wildflowers, her works appear to have been created by busy woodland fairies or forest creatures.

His artist statement reads: “By installing plantings or integrating them into more complex installations, the work is literally planted in nature. Being part of nature, the work lives and dies with the rhythm of the seasons.

Andy Goldsworthy

British sculptor, photographer and conservationist Andy Goldsworthy is known for his site-specific land art made from natural found materials. He crafts his installations from rocks, ice, leaves or branches, then carefully documents how the ephemeral installations change and fade over time. “It’s not about art,” he explains. “It’s just about life and the need to understand that a lot of things in life don’t last.”

Richard Shilling

Inspired by the work of Goldsworthy, British artist Richard Shilling uses natural materials collected from the environment to create outdoor sculptural installations. Exploring form and color, his most recognizable works include his stained glass-like sculptures made of colored leaves and his stacked rock totems. He tells My Modern Met, “Nature art is just a way to express the joy of feeling at one with the environment.”

Agnes Denes

Wheat field

Hungarian conceptual artist Agnes Denes is often referred to as the “grandmother” of the early environmental art movement. She emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and created many environmentally inspired and site-specific pieces. His best-known work, titled Wheat field, a confrontation, was created over a four-month period in the spring and summer of 1982. With support from the Public Art Fund, Denes planted a field of golden wheat on two acres of landfill near Wall Street in lower Manhattan.

Now based in New York, Denes continues to work in a wide range of media. From poetry and writing to intricate hand and computer rendered diagrams, the artist explores the relationship between nature and the urban environment.

Denes’ upcoming exhibition at The Shed gallery in 2019 will be his first solo exhibition at a major New York institution.

chris jordan


Seattle-based artist and photographer Chris Jordan exposes consumerist culture and uses shocking images of plastic waste to remind us of how we are destroying our planet. In his series titled Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass ConsumptionHe explored some of America’s seaports and industrial yards, where he captured colossal piles of discarded products, such as cell phones and computer parts.

“I am appalled by these scenes, but also drawn to them with admiration and fascination,” reveals the artist. “The immense scale of our consumption can seem desolate, macabre, strangely comic and ironic, and even darkly beautiful; to me its constant feature is staggering complexity.

In his recent short film, ALBATROSS, Jordan reveals heartbreaking environmental tragedy of tens of thousands of albatross chicks. On a remote island in the heart of the great Pacific, Chris and his film crew witness cycles birth, life, and finally death caused by plastic pollution. The shocking footage shows the birds lying dead on the ground with their bodies filled with plastic.

Benjamin Von Wong

Photographer Benjamin Von Wong creates beautiful, thought-provoking images that raise awareness of issues like climate change and plastic pollution in our oceans. His high-profile projects involve innovative use of materials, which is especially true in one of his latest projects which focuses on e-waste. By partnering with Dell and Wistron Greentech, Wong acquired the estimated amount of e-waste created by an average US citizen over a lifetime and turned it into stunning post-apocalyptic images.

Learn more about the project below.

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Christopher S. Washington