Artist Leslie Sobel both loves nature and fears for it. An avid hiker and outdoorswoman, Sobel’s encaustic paintings, monoprints and three dimensional assemblage celebrate the mystery and majesty of nature while describing the effects of human-caused climate change. They are often based on personal observation of the landscape but can also be inspired by online aerial images of glaciers or maps of open territory at the poles. One of Sobel’s great ambitions is to see the lands of the far north and Antarctica before they are forever changed by global warming. “I am affected by solastalgia,” she says. Sobel describes solastalgia as “nostalgia for a place one has never been and that is no longer there.”
Three of Leslie Sobel’s encaustic paintings are on view now in Ann Arbor at WSG Gallery, as part of their 16+16 members invitational show, on view until February 4. All 3 works in the exhibit relate to a single transcendent moment Sobel experienced while hiking at the crest of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. She and her companion were alone, a rare occurrence. As she looked out over the brooding seascape of Lake Michigan and the clouds rolling above, Sobel had a profound sense of the small and temporary nature of human existence in the face of nature. These somber thoughts inspired the creation of several encaustic paintings which feature only the stormy sky and Lake Michigan, separated by a distant horizon.
In addition to these private meditations, Sobel does public commissioned artworks, most recently her downtown PowerArt Box. Based on her painting “Row of Pines”, it is one of several selected by online popular vote through Ann Arbor Arts Alliance’s PowerArt Project. The aim of the program is to install reproductions of works by Washtenaw County artists on power boxes throughout the city in order to add visual interest to the streetscape and to discourage tagging on utility boxes. Phases 1 and 2 have been completed and now Phase 3 is in the planning stages. The Arts Alliance is actively soliciting sponsors for individual power boxes. For more information go here.
Sobel’s interest in the natural environment has also led to her participation in numerous artist-in-residence programs in national parks, where she is often paired with scientists and naturalists working there. She recounts with special pleasure a recent residency in Colorado’s Canyon of the Nations National Monument, where she worked alongside archeologists, biologists, anthropologists and geologists. “I was surprise how much these ruins tied in with my interest in climate change–the people who lived here didn’t die. They had to move because they had depleted and degraded the local natural resources. When archeologists searched the middens (trash heaps) of the abandoned settlements, they found that earlier ones held the remains of deer and antelope, while the later ones had the bones of chipmunks and mice.” In the later middens. they also encountered human remains showing signs of cannibalism, a grim reminder of true scarcity that led to their departure for points further to the southwest where it is believed they became the Hopi nation.
In at least a partial fulfillment of her dream to see the far north and south latitudes before they are changed forever, Sobel is planning an extended visit to the Yukon in 2017. She will camp and create in Kluane National Park at the invitation of scientist and researcher Seth Campbell of the University of Maine. Like so many worthy projects, this is an unfunded labor of love; Sobel will be soliciting funds for the trip soon in a GoFundMe campaign. For more information about Leslie Sobel, go here.