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. When possible he actively engages the public on matters of climate justice. He collaborates with scientists on many projects; one of his current collaborations involves creating paint and paintings from iron oxide extracted in the process of remediating polluted streams. Partnering with #OhioUniversity engineer Dr. Guy Riefler, they are building a treatment plant that can clean up over 1 million gallons per day of toxic runoff from abandoned coal mines – and produce over 5,000 lbs of sustainably sourced pigment every day for decades to come.
A limited edition of these pigments #reclaimedcolor have been produced with #gamblinartistscolors and are available now.
Sabraw’s abstract explorations focus on natural phenomena, the earth’s ecosystem as a whole, and our role within that. Painstaking painting methods are coaxed into interacting and amalgamating over durations of up to several months. The result is complex, luminous, mysterious paintings that strike a beautiful balance between controlled and organic processes.
Sabraw’s art is in numerous collections including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Honolulu, the Elmhurst Museum in Illinois, Emprise Bank, Bank of America, and Accenture Corp. He is a Professor of Art at Ohio University where he chairs 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, London, and Great big Stories.
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I spend a lot of time out in places that look amazing, but are polluted with effluent from energy extraction. This location looks like a glacial lake – pristine and blue. But the blue actually comes from aluminium precipitating out of coal mine runoff from improperly sealed coal mines. Thanks to the work of many dedicated activists, environmentalists, and volunteers, we are saving streams and aquatic habitats from these pollutants. But there are over 1,300 miles of streams currently affected in Ohio alone. Get involved with your local organizations and clean up streams in your area. As Wall Street has begun trading water as a commodity, let us make sure we have enough clean water for all.
Big 4 by John Sabraw
Truth is – coal is beautiful. Trees that fell into swamps 300 million years ago got buried. Pressure and time concentrated the carbon such that it is often 90%+ pure. It’s not merely black, rather one can find a broad range of colors and textures, which is why I like to use it in my art. But the earth isn’t making more coal, and as renewables are now cheaper than the cheapest coal, we must rapidly close remaining mines and plants. There is no such thing as ‘clean coal’ – it is one of the least sustainable energy sources. In many areas you can choose to get your electricity from a green source. Make your choice and voice count.
Black Mirror (2018) by John Sabraw
I set out to develop a research-based art practice that intersects science and community engagement with the goal of spurring innovation in developing sustainable solutions to issues of climate justice. This activist position is nimble by design and has allowed me to collaborate with people and organizations focused on environmental, social, policy and educational fronts. Branching out from coal - this painting is in response to oil spills in our waterways.
Nebula (2018) by John Sabraw
In Southeastern Ohio many of the streams run orange. Throughout the first half of the 20th century strip mining and room-and-pillar mining were common throughout this region. Forests were clear cut, soils scraped away, and tunnels dug to remove the coal. A few active coal mines continue in the region, but by the 1970s most of the mining companies had moved on leaving behind open mines and disturbed land, with inadequate restoration.
Much of the forest has now regrown, although it is young, but the underground mines continue to release toxic water to streams. When abandoned, many of the mines fill with water, and the oxygen and water react with mineral surfaces that had been buried for 300 million years. When sulfides are present, these are common in Appalachian coal deposits, very high concentrations of sulfuric acid and iron are produced. In one local seep, over one million gallons per day of polluted water enters Sunday Creek. This water has a final pH below 2 and over 2000 lb of iron per day. It is like junking a car in the stream every day. However, our team started asking what if the iron sludge could be sold as a valuable resource rather than disposed of as a waste product? What if treating pollution could be an entrepreneurial endeavor rather than a societal cost?
To prove the quality of our pigments made from this pollution, I use them in paintings like this one.
Chroma S6 2 (2021) by John Sabraw
Video courtesy of John Sabraw.
Recently I’ve been making more paintings like this one relating to water and ice – the lifeblood of planet Earth.
While the acid mine drainage treatment facility will take up a section of the property next to the seep from the coal mine, we envision opening up the remaining 11+ acres of land as a public, ecological, educational park to use as an experiential place-based learning lab. Art students have helped me design a wetland area on the property downstream of the treatment facility. Envisioned is a sculpture garden, walking paths, native flora and fauna, interpretive signs, and an outdoor classroom space. This outdoor learning lab could be utilized for all disciplines including environmental studies, geography, biological sciences, engineering, art, and also for K-12 school districts. The plant itself will also be open for tours and events.
My hope is that our project will inspire many others to believe in their own power to change our world for the better.
Breach (2020) by John Sabraw
Video courtesy of John Sabraw
On this day three years ago the Toxic Art Kickstarter campaign was launched and it soon reached its target to help clean up the polluted streams in Ohio. Since then the team completed the pilot plant at Corning and have been working hard at building the first full-scale treatment plant in Truetown, OH.
In the meantime Guy Riefler, Michelle Shively and John Sabraw have continued to refine the treatment process and test new methods to produce small batches of iron oxide pigment from acid mine drainage pollution. This pigment made its way to Gamblin Artists Colors and it’s been exactly 1 year since they released Reclaimed Earth Colors!
This project has been a massive inspiration to us and it’s been such a pleasure to give our platform to Prof. John Sabraw this week!
Please consider donating to The John Sabraw Arts and Innovation Fund to help support the team’s work, where art and science communally work towards climate justice!
You can also support the remediation process by using the Gamblin Artists Colors Reclaimed Earth Colors available in 3 beautiful colours shipped worldwide!
We are thrilled to release a new limited edition print from Prof. John Sabraw this week!
The release coincides with the 3rd anniversary of the launch of his inspirational Toxic Art project we introduced this week, and 1 year since Gamblin Colours added his “Reclaimed Earth Colors” to their oil paint line.
Chroma S4 Chimaera
Archival Giclée on 285 gsm Hahnemühle Pearl paper
Edition of 15
With 40% of the proceeds we are supporting the work of Sabraw’s team remediating polluted streams in Ohio by turning toxic pollution into reclaimed paint pigments.
Learn more about the John Sabraw – Art and Innovation Fund herre
Artist friends, make sure to check out the Earth Colors trio, Gamblin ships worldwide!