Painting Australia’s Bushfires:

Eco-Grief & Artivism

Tanya Ogilvie-White

Eco-grief and Artivism. Both are new terms to me, but they’re beginning to define my life in Australia.

As a wildlife artist and animal lover, I’ve been so deeply affected by the devastating bushfires that it’s been hard for me to focus on anything else.

Every day, I pour my heart into my art. In my Extinction Series, I’ve been painting the landscapes and wildlife incinerated by the flames: koalas, kangaroos, cockatoos, platypus, wombats, and wallabies; iconic Australian species, some endangered and even facing extinction.

‘The Long Sleep,’ ‘Goodnight, Koala’ and the other artworks shown in this article are part of my Extinction Series. The Northern Koala, shown sleeping here as fire approaches, was already endangered before this year’s catastrophic bushfires and its survival as a species is in doubt.

My response to the tragic loss of over a billion animals in this season’s fires has been one of overwhelming heartbreak. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve cried endless tears of grief. I’ve been trying to channel these feelings into my art practice, trying to turn traumatic personal experience into a call for climate action. What I’m doing can be described as raw artivism: creating art in the heat of the moment; emotional art to soothe my broken heart; political art to push for change.

It gives me a temporary escape from grim reality. The technique I use is called ‘encaustic’ or ‘hot wax painting’ - an ancient Egyptian artform that involves burning layer upon layer of melted beeswax and raw pigments into wooden panels. Because (ironically) I’m using fire in the process, it demands my full attention. Even a tiny error, such as holding the flame above the substrate for a second too long can wreck an entire week’s work, which, as you can imagine, helps me focus.

‘Fire in Our Skies’ Encaustic Original (Triptych), January 2020