The complex issues of climate change and global warming are front and center in the Museum of Northwest Art’s latest installation, “A Precarious Edge.” The exhibit is the brainchild of two accomplished La Conner artists seeking to promote change through inspiration.
A multisensory experience greets the visitor, with orchestral overtones gently tugging at the emotions while the eyes absorb the collaborative works of Steve Klein and Meg Holgate.
But, as the name suggests, the artists have a clear message to impart.
“The purpose of ‘Precarious Edge’ is to bring the viewer closer to our climate change issues outside of the science, outside of the research,” Holgate said. “Our intention in creating the work was to draw the viewer in, to connect them with the meaning of climate change through beauty and loss.”
Klein’s “Glacier” greets the visitor: an arrangement of eight sections of two-toned curved glass each corresponding to a decade. Blue and white are mixed with varying textures giving the illusion of ice, slush and water. As the decades progress from left to right, the white sections shrink while the blue tones enlarge, representing the melting of the ice caps over time. On a nearby wall, Holgate’s painting “Ice Crystal” compliments the glass work, creating a sectional theme in the area.
“The glaciers are strong visuals so that was the easy place, if any of it was easy, to start,” Holgate said. “To me an iceberg is so relevant; it’s disappearing, it’s melting, it’s fading away in such an obvious way.”
A perhaps less-obvious painting is “Breathtaking Views.” Its green and fuzzy tone seems to dissipate in clarity as the eye travels from the bottom to the top of the canvas.
“The image that I used to inform that painting came from a trip I was taking back East,” Holgate said. “I was looking out the plane and I realized that what I was looking at was a layer of pollution. It took my breath away because the light was both beautiful and haunting.”
‘I just want to paint’
Throughout the installation, a pattern emerges with Klein’s structural pieces complemented by the ethereal qualities of Holgate’s paintings—or vice versa depending on the way the eye travels.
“I think that’s really one of the beautiful aspects of the show,” Klein said. “My work is more narrative and direct, and Meg’s work tends to be a little more contemplative.”
Holgate and Klein are essentially kindred spirits, having both embraced their artistic sides later in life. They pointed to Depression-era parents who pushed them to pursue more financially stable occupations rather than the riskier life of an artist as the cause of their trajectories. Holgate had a career as a stockbroker and Klein worked in industrial sales before deciding to pursue an artistic path.
“One day I said, ‘I just want to paint’,” Holgate said. “So, for 25 years I made a living in mural and trompe l’oeil art.”
Holgate honed her craft in decorative art but admitted it wasn’t enough to satisfy her need for creativity.
“Twenty years ago, I married my husband Bruce and he said, ‘What do you want to do?’,” Holgate said. “And I said, ‘I need to paint my own work’.”
Klein shared a similar experience admitting that he too hit a point in his sales career where he felt creatively unfulfilled, compelling him to find an outlet.
Klein’s pivotal moment came to him while he was visiting a friend’s house in Everett, where he noticed a brochure for Pilchuck Glass School.
“I took [a] class and I lived with artists for three weeks,” Klein said. “The three weeks changed my life.”
For 26 years, Klein has sharpened his skills as a glass artist, citing the abstract expressionist movement and constructivism as inspirations for his early work. He went from being a student to being a member of the board of trustees at Pilchuck Glass School and conducting his own retreats with artists from around the world.
Evolving toward the ‘Edge’
Klein and Holgate crossed paths in the art scene of Seattle, at first admiring each other’s work from afar before being brought together by a mutual friend. They finally met when a colleague suggested they both present their work in the same gallery.
“We’ve been friends ever since,” Holgate said. “And so, there was a natural evolution in knowing each other that pushed this particular theme, ‘precarious edge’.”
Klein and Holgate each relocated to La Conner, Klein moving first in a desire to be closer to Pilchuck and Holgate following. Both cited the gorgeous backdrop as part of their motivation. They explained that although their work has appeared together in galleries in the past, “A Precarious Edge” is their first intentionally collaborative effort.
Due to this relatively new approach, as well as difficulties from the pandemic, it took nearly three years before their concept came to fruition.
Klein and Holgate said they went through various revisions of the concept because of the urgency they felt in the theme of environmental awareness. There was a time they thought about juxtaposing facts written on the walls to inform their audience but ultimately they scrapped that idea.
“We don’t want to tell the viewer what to think,” Klein said. “We want the viewer look at this work, contemplate and come to their own conclusions.”
Holgate works predominantly in oils though has dabbled with glass and other mediums. Even though most of her work is on canvas, there are intentional three-dimensional qualities in the form of contours or textures present at times. She described herself as a landscape artist who perceives two landscapes, one inhabiting the material world as well as a personal one that dwells within.
“My landscape represents an interior version of how we are as human beings, quite meditative and contemplative; and yet the exterior beauty, the landscape itself, is my deep connection to nature,” Holgate said. “That’s what I try and translate in my work.”
Klein utilizes the glass-working technique known as fusing, where pieces of glass with identical melting points are fired in a kiln at specific temperatures just long enough to fuse together. The images captured between the glass are put there using a silk-screen process beforehand, causing the appearance of an image captured within.
Klein said he was first drawn to glassblowing as a medium but found it to be unfulfilling for what he was trying to accomplish.
“I could work on a piece in my studio for six or eight hours, put it aside and come back to it,” Klein said. “I can take a week, a year, two years—it doesn’t make any difference—to make something, and I love the thought process in going into it that it’s not immediate.”
The third component of the exhibit is Grammy-nominated conductor Christophe Chagnard’s “Terra Nostra,” written separately and used with Chagnard’s permission. The composition shifts almost imperceptibly from calm, serene tones to anxious crescendos as attendees travel through the exhibit. Klein and Holgate explained this is intentional, as they felt the message of environmental awareness to be a complex intersection of emotion and responsibility.
“We wanted them to feel the changes, some more subtle, some not, [and] the music did amplify that,” Holgate said. “It just felt like the work we had created was completely simpatico with the composition of ‘Terra Nostra’.”
Chagnard is the founder of Earth Creative, self-described as a “gathering platform for artists from all over the world to share their passion for sustainability and climate justice through their creations”—a platform that Klein and Holgate see themselves getting more involved with in the foreseeable future.
“The viewer is an intelligent individual; let them think for themselves, let them feel,” Holgate said. “We know when something is real, when it’s spoken in truth. I think the mission of art is to find the truth.”
— Reported by Chris O’Neill
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