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"Sprawlviewer: Development?" a piece aimed to raise discussion of suburban sprawl and how culture relates to the land.
Staff photo by Carrie Niland

Wake-up call

By Jeanné McCartin

Just back from a six-week trip to India, multi-medium artist Tim Gaudreau is fired up and ready to get back to work. His trip, made possible by a Rotary International Group Study Exchange grant, proved fuel for work as an Eco-artist.

Check out Tim Gaudreau's work at his four Web sites:
Note cards, http://www.timgaudreau.com/cards.html
Sculpture http://www.timgaudreau.com/sculpture.html

A vocational exchange program, it put him in touch with people who shared the same discipline.

"We were there to exchange ideas. As artists we all see the world different. My role was just to engage in discourse with artists of the area. To share." Given his use of numerous mediums, metal smith, video, paint and photography, he simply went as an "artist."

But more importantly as an Eco artist, someone concerned with environmental issues and cultural connection to nature, he says. The role is a rather recent one for Gaudreau, a New Hampshire native who's lived in Portsmouth for the past six years. Originally, he worked as a photographer. While it's a great medium, he says, eventually he felt stifled by its limitations and he "needed room to grow."

Tim Gaudreau, above,stands near an untouched block of Colorado Alabaster stone in his button Factory studio in Portsmouth.
Staff photo by Carrie Niland

It would be the start of something very new.

With his BA in studio art from the University of New Hampshire in hand, Gaudreau returned to school. He enrolled in the multi-disciplinary grad program at Maine College of Art, and began to explore.

Much of his time was spent working with video, painting and copper sculpture, but he made a point to take time to consider what voice he wanted his work to take.

"I went about developing my ideas in terms of my particular artistic agenda. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say that in the world."

He concluded that his profession needed to be more than creating attractive pieces to grace a home. Convinced that artists are an important element in a society's voice, he decided to take the role of cultural instigator.

"If you look at the artist historically they've had an active role in defining culture, questioning how we think, how we act. Artist, social activist, politicians, we need people that stop and make us think about what we're doing, so we don't go through life just repeating the same old thing."

The concept has shaped his work over the past two years. He now sees himself as an Eco-artist, someone who questions society's relationship with resources and mirrors it back in such a way as to challenge ideas.

"I use my work as activism." One example of this work is his "Sprawl Viewers," wooden frames painted in construction orange, staked into the ground in random, local locations. In each he places a transparency depicting urban sprawl.

One piece, currently on display at the Currier Museum in Manchester, offers a view of a Wal-Mart and its large parking lot.

"On one hand I'm picking on Wal-Mart. I'm talking about urban sprawl that's done with no consideration for the ecological impact on the community. It's (also) about major corporation economics. ... It's about developing community out of tune with nature."

And there are other series. "The Found Poster" series addresses American culture's relationship with natural resources. It came out of an Eco-art project/exhibit he was involved in while studying in Maine. Initially he intended to create a copper sculpture for the event. Things changed when he was working on location in Windham, Maine, and became frustrated with the trash at the site.

"Every day I'd come across it. I was overwhelmed by the crap. I couldn't figure out what to do about it. Eventually ... it disturbed me enough I knew I had to do something."

The next day, "in the spirit of New York artist Mierle Laderman Ukles," he cleaned up the site.

"It was kind of a performance piece - without witnesses," he says with quite laugh. "I brought all the trash back to the studio in Portsmouth." After a few weeks, Gaudreau came to the conclusion he'd made a mistake. By cleaning it up, he'd removed others from their guilt, "taken responsibility for their actions."

"I realized, to deal with this as an issue, I had to present opportunity for discussion, put it in people's faces and not remove the problem." As he thought about how bizarre the behavior was, how indicative it was of our relationship with resources, he began to imagine how foreign it would to be other cultures.

"The pizza box on the road, the cigarette box, I realized (they'd) recognize them ... as valuable objects and (they'd) want to return them. That spawned the idea of the found posters."

There was one for a lost cigarette butt and lost beer can, all looking for their rightful owners.

From the time he made his switch to Eco-art, he assumed he'd always need to keep his photography business alive to pay the bills. And to date he has. But surprisingly, response to the work has been overwhelmingly positive, he says. And he's sold a good number of the Eco-art works.

Even more surprising, he adds, was being awarded a 2003 Artist Fellowship, from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts & National Endowment for the Arts.

"I never expected it. My work is challenging, while functional aesthetically, it's not what the work is about. It's about raising questions ... and changing our behavior."

Among the awards the 33-year-old Gaudreau has received are the Ziekel A. Straw Memorial Award, the Currier Gallery; the Alfred T. Grainger Award, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation; the Jefferson Pilot Financial Award for Creativity, the Currier Gallery and the Brazil Travel & Exhibition Grant, New Hampshire Partners of the Americas.

His work has been exhibited at New Hampshire Institute of Art, White Pines College, the New Hampshire Statehouse and Museu do Imagem e Som, Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil.

In addition to the "Found Series," Gaudreau created a "Lost Series." This one deals with our treasures, he says, such as clean water and fresh air and specific uses and examples in our local environment. Then there's the "Wanted Series."

"The 'Wanted' is a little more confrontational. I photograph people committing crimes, thoughtless things ... like not recycling trash."

While in India, the discrepancies between the two cultures brought an even greater sense of urgency to Gaudreau's work. There he experienced a culture with a much greater reverence for resources. That contrast and the distance from his own culture, brought our wastefulness into focus.

"We're so wealthy and (while) we know that, we forget it. Having the chance to go over and see other parts of the world, how they live ... in a place that doesn't have the luxuries we have, it makes you stop and think. We have a greater responsibility in the world because of what we have. But we're not living up to our obligations."

He found the people of India to be warm, hospitable and generous. Even the poorest displayed a sense of peace and spirit, which he credits to their incredible appreciation for what they have and their status in life.

In contrast, our materialistic and self-serving culture became all the more distasteful. The impact will certainly have a strong effect on his work, he says. His vision has broadened, from local to world wide. Gaudreau plans to address both national and international issues in future work.

"I came to realize how little one needs to survive and to be happy. So for me to have six weeks in India was phenomenal, to learn not only about India but about myself."

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