Arts & Leisure

Eileen’s balancing act: art, action and education

EILEEN GOMBOSI IS the art teacher for Ripton and Salisbury elementary schools — she’s also an artist herself. Recently she’s been feverishly working on a new series of paintings, drawings and pastels that concern the balance of the planet and how climate change is affecting creatures large and small.

RIPTON — Right from the start, Eileen Gombosi knew her next art series was going to be a statement on balance in the ecological world, and now amidst the COVID-19 pandemic it feels more timely than ever. 
“I’ve been on fire,” she said in a remote interview earlier this month. “I have more time to be working at home in my studio. Those times of working and intense creativity are the same for me.”
When she’s not doing her personal work in her studio, Gombosi is online with her art students from Ripton and Salisbury elementary schools. “My work teaching is very different these days,” she said. She’s using Google Meet for classes and mini art lessons; and has made a Google art studio/virtual gallery where students can take photos of their work and she can put them up in rooms with gallery tags. Pretty cool, but different for sure. 
“All this change happened so fast, and it gives me hope that people are coming together,” said the Ripton artist. “I think if there’s one positive thing to come out of all this, is that we can come together and solve big issues. So I’m going full steam ahead on my climate change series — we can reduce emissions and save species.”
Gombosi turned the camera to show a piece she started that morning. 
“It’s phytoplankton,” she said. “They’re simple, one-cell organisms, but these little powerhouses are so important for reducing carbon dioxide.”
According to Nationalgeographic.org “rainforests are responsible for roughly one-third (28 percent) of the Earth’s oxygen but most (70 percent) of the oxygen in the atmosphere is produced by marine plants” like phytoplankton.
However, NASA has reported a decline of diatoms, the largest type of phytoplankton algae, totaling more than 1 percent a year from 1998 to 2012 globally due to rising ocean temperatures and climate change. 
That’s not good news for our air quality. 
“I wanted this simple, bottom-of-the-web creature to be the starting point of my series,” said Gombosi. She’s completed three other pieces in the series: a wild bee, a mayfly and a Nevada Blue butterfly.
“I want to give a voice to creatures who can’t talk,” said Gombosi, who graduated with a degree in fine arts with a minor in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1988. “I’m trying to show the awesome, majestic beauty of nature and maximize the connection that we have to the earth.”
Gombosi moved to Ripton from Whidbey Island, Wash., 10 years ago with her two sons (now 21 and 27 years old) and has carried her passion for art with her. 
“My art is inspired by nature, positive messaging and science,” she said. “I really live my art. It’s in me and I have to do it because it is me. I don’t separate my work from my life — not in an onerous way; in a joyful way.”
Gombosi has gone through many metamorphoses with her art, from museum education, to teaching, to a painted-chair business when her boys were younger. 
This series is done with oil paints, pastels and pen and ink on birch veneer. 
“I try to get the vibrancy of life in my art,” she said. “It’s somewhat stylized; I focus on the movement and on all the wonderful, rawness of nature.”
But in the end, “art to me is so much about communication,” she concluded. “It’s such a positive, healthy way to communicate…  It’s a unifying cohesive force — transformative really.”
With the COVID-19 crisis isolating everyone, Gombosi sees an opportunity to connect and communicate with people. 
“I don’t think this pandemic makes art more ‘essential,’ but people are recognizing it more,” she said. “And it certainly emphasizes the loss of balance in the world.”
Gombosi is hoping to work her way up the food chain of creatures most impacted by climate change. 
“I’m playing with the size and scale of the creatures I’m painting,” Gombosi said, adding that she’s aiming to have a show completed sometime during the summer. “Sadly I could go on and on and on… there are so many animals affected by climate change.”
She’s not sure how the show will be presented — perhaps digitally — but she will be making prints for sale, and donating proceeds to organizations that protect the individual creatures. 
What about us humans — near the top of the food chain — responsible for all this environmental imbalance?
“I will probably concentrate on the humans ‘victimization’ rather than ‘villainization,” added Gombosi. “This is not easy to do as I continue my research. It’s really easy to be angry… it’s hard not to feel hate and despair.”
But Gombosi is committed to using her voice as an artist to hopefully connect us all as citizens of the Earth, and spur us into action to solve these global problems.
“I have never felt so strongly about a body of work,” she said. “Climate change is already striking hard against the poorest populations, amplifying hunger and poverty. It’s increasing resource scarcity that has the potential to increase political instability. The snowball effect magnifies into a worsening of the refugee crisis, loss of biodiversity, species extinction — this includes humans. The innocent and vulnerable need a voice and as an artist, I want to be a voice for those who are not able to speak. It’s easy for us to become paralyzed with fear, or guilt for causing this mess we are in, but my goal is to heighten awareness with a spirit of compassion.”

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