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Member Spotlight: John Sabraw

Monday, August 23, 2021 9:40 AM | Anonymous


AUGUST 23, 2021

This week we recognize the work of artist John Sabraw.

"Art is the mechanism through which I explore the fundamental metaphysical dilemmas we face as a conscious species. No medium or mode is unconsidered when attacking this pursuit. I look for idiosyncratic connections between things, the compression of time and distance, the glory of our universe, and natural and cosmological processes. A catalytic visual collation that generates a paradox revealing the fragile connection between technology, nature and man. An activist and environmentalist, my paintings, drawings and collaborative installations are produced in an eco-conscious manner, and I continually work toward a fully sustainable practice."

Above: Petrichor 3, 8 x 8", laser etched maple burl, CNC routed coal dust and sculpting clay, oil paint, 23.5K gold leaf, cold rolled steel frame, 2017

"There is a hidden network most people have no idea exists, yet each of us has a part in its formation : underground coal mines. In a recent series of art works I am unearthing these hidden topographies to examine their paradox. For they are at once wondrous feats of human ingenuity and engineering, yet also emblematic of our consumption and hubris. These underground excoriations are fascinating in their design, and compelling in their geography. By drawing maps of these coal mines, I am seeking an understanding of humanity itself.

I have chosen to use technological instruments through digital interface to draw these maps, e.g. laser cutters and computer driven routers, to burn or excavate natural materials, thereby enacting the very scorched earth practice of resource extraction in America. There is a terrible beauty in the resulting artworks that balance the delicate with the brutal."

Above: Chroma S4 Dragon, 48 x 48", AMD pigments and other paints on aluminum composite panel, 2017

"The same holds true for my chroma series. These paintings seek to express the sublimity of nature, but also the fragility of our relationship with it. One aspect of the series that underscores this pursuit is the use of AMD pigments.

I have partnered with Guy Riefler to extract toxic acid mine drainage (AMD) from polluted streams and turn it into paint pigment. Once the pigment is sold on a commercial scale, revenue will be invested back into the streams’ remediation.

I became inspired to transform the toxic sludge after moving to Ohio. While touring the southern part of the state with sustainability group “Kanawha”, I was struck by the colors of the local streams – orange, red and brown, as if from a mud slide. The polluted water contained iron oxide, which was flowing freely from abandoned coal mines. I thought it would be fantastic to use this toxic flow to make paintings rather than with imported synthetic iron oxides. It turned out that environmental engineer and fellow Ohio University professor Guy Riefler had already been working to create viable paint from this toxic sludge; so we began collaborating."

"To make the pigment, we intercept the AMD before it gets to the stream, take the water back to the lab, neutralize it with sodium hydroxide or another base, then bubble oxygen through the water, causing the iron oxide to crystalize and fall to the bottom. The clean water is then returned to the stream. The iron oxide is blended with oil, or acrylic polymers and resins to make paint, ranging in hues from yellow to brown to red to black. Different colors are achieved by firing the pigment at different temperatures – up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit – in a kiln at Ohio University’s ceramics studio.

This is where Gamblin comes in. As a colorhouse that promises to be kind to artists and the environment, turning this pigment into paint was something we felt both compelled and honored to do. In 2018 we officially joined forces by making one full batch of paint with the reclaimed pigment. The process to collect the pigment worked, and an oil paint manufacturer was on board. The concept was no longer just an idea, it was a reality."

Above: Gamblin Reclaimed Earth Colors

John Sabraw was born in Lakenheath, England. An activist and environmentalist, Sabraw’s paintings, drawings and collaborative installations are produced in an eco conscious manner, and he continually works toward a fully sustainable practice. His art is in numerous collections including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Honolulu, the Elmhurst Museum in Illinois, Emprise Bank, and Accenture Corp. Sabraw is represented in Chicago by Thomas McCormick. Sabraw is a Professor of Art at Ohio University where he is Chair of the Painting + Drawing program, and Board Advisor at Scribble Art Workshop in New York. He has most recently been featured in TED, Smithsonian, New Scientist, and Great Big Story. He is currently included in the exhibition "Reclamation; Recovering our Relationship with Place" curated by Erika Osborne at the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO, and his solo show of new art work titled "Hydrophilic" opens October 7th at Qualia Contemporary Art in Palo Alto, CA.


Above: John Sabraw/Photo: Ben Siegel

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