Skip’s Climate Story

Skip Hofstrand was a featured artist in the exhibition World In Flux: Visions & Voices of a Changing Planet, in partnership with Vine Arts Center and Climate Generation.

I have been a professional artist for 40 plus years and in that time, over many decades, I settled on a style that I call a numenistic approach (a “spirit-within”).

It means that I bring the “spirit essence” of what I am depicting into the painting and blend it with the elements of the painting. Water is my primary medium. I use water associated with the subject (water from Lake Superior to help paint Lake Superior associated wildlife); it is also used in the paint mixing process. Incorporating the “spirit essence” of the place is important to me, and a personally meaningful way of actively bringing out the beauty and importance of that place.

Exploring the Utah canyons in the early 70’s as a young man, I observed some of the pictographs and petroglyphs and realized how these early artists incorporated “spiritual significance” into their works — I desired to do the same with my art.

Recently I was part of the Vine Arts Center’s Art exhibition, World In Flux: Visions and Voices of a Changing Planet. Here one of my pieces was displayed, one among 32 artists who submitted pieces to depict our changing climate. My piece is a solitary polar bear in the Arctic tundra, looking back and lonesome. The expression is despair. Titled “Homeland Insecurity” and painted with water that Will Steger collected from the untimely run off from glacial melt during his 2008 Greenland expedition, it represents the devastation of global warming.

I did a series of polar bear pieces all painted with this glacial meltwater, depicting the anguish and distress experienced by polar bears. This to me is a metaphor for the “humanity” of this issue we are facing. I am 79 years old. In my generation, we don’t have much time left to see the changes that are necessary for restoring harmony to our natural world and to our human communities.

I have always been an ecologist, and have a deep interest in our interconnections with all of nature. I was a watercolor painter long before I understood climate change. When I was 34 years old, I met Will Steger rock climbing at Taylors Falls. He was on top of the climb with his plant book, looking for mushrooms and documenting wildflowers. He was separate from our group. When I got to the top I met him. He inspired me that day and has ever since. I quietly witnessed his humble curiosity about the world — this really drew me in. We kept in contact, our friendship grew, and I ended up as his medical director for nearly all of his expeditions.

Will Steger has made an impression on my life and inspired me to do this work.

I have personally observed Will’s intensity of spirit and the importance of people, place, and wilderness in his life as an explorer. It has made me curious to depict this sense of intensity through art.

I have been deeply engaged in the challenge of climate change since the 1986 North Pole expedition, where I began to feel these changes and understood the magnitude of Will’s observations. The subjective and objective visualizations of these changes, as an artist, has been important to capture. I have seen the beauty of the Arctic. Images are etched in my memory. My entry into climate change has been felt very strongly. I understand that there is no going back. We don’t have much time left to institute the changes that are necessary. My hope is now with the young people to help restore and rebalance was has been disrupted.

Climate change is a documentable science. Science for some has fallen into the realm of divisive politics. This disturbs me greatly.

Through my art, I share the grief, but also perhaps an element of hope.

The hope is for our children to do better than we have done. To better understand how deeply connected we are with the natural world and a common community with the inhabitants of the Earth. I hope my paintings will speak to this unspoken element of hope and integration.

Art and story are powerful, they are ancient, and they have always played a role in balancing and promoting expression, emotion, inspiration. It gets us out of our heads; it gets to the heart of the matter.

People may describe climate change in the scientific or the political, but it is hard to dispute the conceptualization through art, which is emotion manifested. Planting seeds of goodness and awareness in the world, no matter how small, does add up, and I am optimistic.

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