Trinity student presents art at sustainability meet

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Michael Leonard, biology freshman at Trinity University, holds two of five pieces he presented at the EcoExchangeEdu event April 5. Leonard used acrylic paint for the pieces, he calls the set of five ‘Thrown Away’. The paints were based on photos from stories by National Geographic by Erik De Castro, of Reuters(left) and Justin Hoffman (right). Travis Doyle

EcoExchangeEdu featured presentations from representatives of local colleges.

By Travis Doyle

Michael Leonard, a biology freshman at Trinity University, presented five paintings depicting plastic waste at the EcoExchangeEdu’s sustainability showcase April 5 in McCreless Hall.

Leonard made one of 18 presentations showing different takes on sustainability, and attendance was estimated at 85 people, said Meredith Miller, Sinkin Eco Centro director and one of the events coordinators.

Leonard’s paintings were based on photos by well-known photographers.

He used acrylic to paint them and tried to emphasize parts of each photo or the whole photo to create a message encouraging proper waste disposal.

“I wanted to have a more humanist take on it, something’s that’s more artistic and thought provoking,” he said in an interview April 4.

The original photos were taken by wildlife photographer Justin Hofman, American photographer Chris Jordan, Reuters photographers Erik De Castro, Reuters photographer Steven Shi, Bangladeshi photojournalist Andrew Bhiraj, and National Geographic photographer Randy Olson.

Leonard said he hopes the pieces can get across a message that people should do more to stop pollution.

“What I really want to do more than anything else is get people to think about the plastics that we’re using, the single-use plastics like water bottles, plastic bags, plastics straws,” he said. “You can get along with your day just fine without them, but we just mindlessly use it, and that’s a big part of the problem.”

Leonard said the five pieces were lined up from left to right to show an escalating sense of dread from pollutants.

“The effect I was going for with these pieces is that it starts out fully painted, and very aesthetically pleasing and artistic, and as you go across it becomes a little more realistic and blends better with the photographs,” he said.

“That creates another effect that in the first few the plastic pollution is invading the painting, but by the end, the painting is really invading the pollution,” he said.

“And that is meant to play with the binary that exists between our perception of nature as being something being pristine and beautiful versus the reality of what we’re doing to our environment,” he said.

One of the photos showed a decomposing albatross that ate plastic while trying to catch fish.

After the bird died, the plastics didn’t decompose with the body.

“This photographer, Chris Jordan, he did a whole series of these and basically what happens is these birds consume the plastic because they were looking for fish,” he said. “It kills them, but then as the body starts to rot away and decompose, the plastic doesn’t.”

Leonard said he has cared about the environment since he was a child.

“Honestly, what really got me going was the ‘Crocodile Hunter’ when I was really little and just watching that, and I just became really passionate about the environment, and that just kind of snowballed from there into this,” he said.

Concerning fair use, Leonard said his art is “appropriation art and because I’m not selling these, I’m not making a profit off of these, it’s all for education,” he said.

Appropriation art is when one uses pre-existing objects or pieces and re-contextualizes it to create a new work, Fine arts Coordinator Rebecca Dietz explained.

“We are talking about when an artist takes another artist’s work and incorporates it into their own artwork. When one artist incorporates another work of an artist in their own work that creates a new commentary or a new idea,” she said.

The event also had presentations from students and faculty from Northwest Vista College, Palo Alto College, this college, University of the Incarnate Word, University of Texas at San Antonio, St. Mary’s University and Trinity University.


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