Sustainable colour in the contemporary art world
The contributions of Sigrid Holmwood
The considerable environmental impacts of paint are often overlooked by artists due to a lack of knowledge about sustainable alternatives. Some painters may fear that they are jeopardising their style by using alternative materials, and therefore choose to buy standard synthetic paints from established art shops. Better yet, they may opt for ‘eco’ paints in an attempt to contribute to the sustainable art movement. However, the issue here is that these ‘eco’ paints still contain Titanium Dioxide. Titanium Dioxide is responsible for an outstanding amount of environmental destruction as it is extracted from rapidly diminishing resources, emits C02 and has only slightly less VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) than synthetic paint. This renders the word ‘eco’ completely useless.
It is contemporary artists such as Sigrid Holmwood are challenging these products, by aiming to be self-sufficient in their art work and developing a deeper understanding of the chosen materials used for each painting, from the canvas to the pigments.
Nevertheless, an artist researching every element of their practice can be a lengthy process. Through extensive study, performance artist, researcher and painter Sigrid Holmwood exhibits the great impact that a slowed production can have on one’s work. Holmwood’s additional experience as a historical reenactor informs her practice that focuses primarily on peasants. Her work demonstrates that downsizing production as artists and looking into historical approaches towards agriculture can help one to understand where colour originates from and, more importantly, how to use this knowledge to lead a sustainable art life.
One of the most noteworthy elements of Holmwood’s work is the educational aspect. By partaking in fact-finding trips to different countries, she learns about the historic methods that other cultures use to make paper, grow pigments and make paintbrushes. Holmwood brings this influential knowledge into gallery spaces and shares it with viewers. For example, in 2014, Holmwood planted a wildflower garden at the ASC Gallery in London. This garden was shown alongside paintings and research she had done as an artist-in-residence at Hallands Art Museum in Sweden. During this residency, Holmwood learnt about the ‘Blood Red Webcap’. Though poisonous and possibly fatal to ingest, the Webcap creates a brilliant red colour that is a natural alternative to the inhuman and expensive method of using the Cochineal insect to produce dye.
Video: Sigrid Holmwood - Trust New Art / National Trust, July 2012
Another plant that Sigrid Holmwood uses to create her pigments is Woad. Grown often in parts of North America, its leaves can be dried and fermented to create indigo blue. In 2017, Holmwood exhibited at Annely Juda Fine art in London.
On her website she stated that ‘The works in this exhibition come out of my research for the construction of a pigment garden in the Sierra María Los Vélez, Almería, Spain.’
This extensive exploration of alternative materials manifested itself as paintings, installations and a performance in which she showed spectators how to extract the pigment from the Woad plant. Adding another dimension to the paintings while also sharing her knowledge and breaking down any hierarchy between the viewer and the artist.
It is artists such as Sigrid Holmwood who are paving the way towards a more sustainable future for art, where alternative material options are readily available for artists to use without the fear of them compromising the quality of their work.