Down to Earth

B.C. students express their hopes and fears for the planet through art

Swan Lee (LFAS) painted Wasting Nature after seeing an undamaged apple sitting on a rubbish heap at the Surrey transfer station. It is one of the pieces that will be on display at Langley Centennial Museum through May and June.

What does the environment mean to B.C. high school students?

Many see it as abused, unappreciated and neglected by humans — a place where toxins are taking over, the natural world is suffering and food, water, air and other necessities of life are becoming increasingly scarce or unsafe.

Other teens, however, view the environment as a place of hope and beauty, teeming with plants and wildlife, with children playing and dreaming in a world they love and cherish.

The diverse, creative and colourful viewpoints are on display right now in Surrey — and coming to Langley next month — a juried show of artwork by Grade 9 to 12 students from across the province.

Earthwise student art show is comprised of 50 pieces of multi-media artwork, chosen by jurors from about 300 submitted by students from 53 public and private schools in 25 communities from Chetwynd to Campbell River. Students were simply asked: “What does the environment mean to you?”

Jury members were Jim Adams, chairman of the Surrey Public Art Advisory Committee, Burns Bog president Eliza Olson and Brian Foreman, assistant curator of the Surrey Art Gallery.

Langley Fine Arts School student Ju Young Lee, took third place in B.C. — and a $500 cash prize — for the paper collage piece Take Another Look.

“Without realizing it, most of us are consuming numerous genetically modified foods purchased from our grocery stores,” the artist wrote in a summary of the piece.

“Innocently we put together GMO meals that can negatively affect our personal health and the health of the planet.

“Do you know what you’re eating?”

First prize ($2,000) went to Thomas Nelles, Sullivan Heights Secondary school. Shirley Liu, from Steveston-London Secondary school, took second place and $1,000.

Many of the artworks appear obvious in their message, such as Langley Fine Art School student Alex Honeywell’s Tip of the Iceberg, in which the portion of the iceberg below the water is comprised of compressed styrofoam cups.

Fleetwood Park Secondary’s Stuart Brookes’ piece, with a polar bear and penguin living like homeless people in an alley, also conveys an easy-to-get message.

Other pieces, like that of Thomas Nelles of Surrey’s Sullivan Heights Secondary, requires a bit more explanation. Called Cultural Entropy, he says his all-digital work depicts a post-apocalyptic world, circa 2083.

“Adam and Eve are the only people left on Earth,” Nelles, a Grade 11 student, says of his complicated, thematic, multi-layered print.

“They hope to gain more knowledge … so they can mend the world.”

Emily Lee, also in Grade 11 at Sullivan, was the only student to have two paintings chosen for the show — both very different from one another.

One, called The Wonder Years, is brightly coloured, with six children lying in the grass, their faces replaced with images of skies and mountainscapes and oceans.

“I felt we need to keep their dreams real — make their dreams come true,” says Lee.

Her other painting, Pieta, is a much darker, Michaelangelo-inspired work — a futuristic image of people gazing up at a monument of a woman cradling a whale — a creature that’s clearly extinct.

The show is eclectic, not only in subject matter, but in media as well, with painting and drawing complemented with collage and digital work.

“We’re proud of this one because I think we’ve pushed the envelope,” said Surrey art teacher Marc Pelech, one of the show’s organizers.

The show will be on display at Langley Centennial Museum through May and June. It can be also viewed on the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development website (

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