In John Seerey-Lester's painting "Elephant Graveyard," the Venice wildlife artist re-creates an African boneyard strewn with hollowed-out skulls and broken jaws, a misty scene in the savanna where marabou storks come to dwell and old elephants come to die. In the artist statement accompanying his painting at the Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University, Seerey-Lester says the work was inspired by the safaris of big-game hunter Karamojo Bell, who tracked elephants to this communal resting place.
"Elephant Graveyard" accompanies more than 60 artworks in Jeffrey Whiting's touring "Artists for Conservation" display, opening Saturday in the library's second-floor gallery. Numerous as these artworks may be, Whiting calls the show a "small teaser" for a bigger eco-festival blowout planned for next spring, one that will champion nature in South Florida and efforts led by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation in Davie.
But first, there's this exhibition, subtitled "Saving Nature One Brushstroke at a Time," which assembles 57 artists, including Harvey, for a showcase of global-conservation-themed paintings. Each painting sold benefits at least one national environmental charity, Whiting says.
"It's critical that we make nature culturally important with this show. It needs to be about society loving and nurturing nature and the diversity of life, and without that, all will be lost," Whiting says. "So we wanted to bring that here and make South Florida a hub for music, films and the beauty of conservation."
Antonio Fins, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation's executive director, helped deliver Whiting's Vancouver-based Artists for Conservation to the university. He says he met Whiting at an AFC gathering at a ski lodge in September, where they hashed out festival plans over drinks at the bar. Nova may also host next year's fete, which will feature a conservation film festival, "high-caliber" music acts and a wildlife summit titled "Green, White and Blue," all set around the art exhibit.
For the current show, AFC will invite more than 1,000 at-risk Broward County students to view the exhibition over the next month. It also will host screenings of the short documentary "Portraits of the Planet," shot with Harvey in 2013.
"This will be completely different from Tortuga," Fins says of the planned festival, referencing the ocean-conservation-themed music bash on Fort Lauderdale beach also sponsored by his foundation. "It's a broader demographic, and it's more global, with a focus on Florida artists. But I've realized so far, as I watched these students visit the show, that we can't get too parochial about Florida art. These kids are drawn to scenes they don't normally see, like the painting of the moose covered in snow, and the elephant graveyard, and they're stopping to ask questions."
Elsewhere in the exhibit, Robin Murray's "Lost Lands" depicts a jaguar gazing over the Grand Canyon, a region where this animal has been hunted to extinction. The nearby diptych "Hole in the Ocean Floor," from Megan Kissinger, shows a whirlpool in the Gulf of Mexico as tarpon, bull sharks and cormorants rotate around a black mass, which is meant to conjure associations with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. And Carrie Cook's "Net Loss" features a hawksbill sea turtle whose right limbs are partially severed. The turtle, which lives at the Dallas Children's Aquarium, survived after being tangled in a discarded fishing net.
"I am very uncomfortable visiting animals in captivity," Cook writes in her artist statement. "Nonetheless, I recognize that had the aquarium not taken in this hawksbill as a hatchling, it would never have survived in the wild."
Artists for Conservation: Saving Nature One Brushstroke at a Time
When: May 17 through June 16 (public reception: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, May 17)
Where: Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University, 3100 Ray Ferrero Jr. Blvd., Davie