Erin Owen: Art As Environmental Education

Born and raised in Nowata, OK (population approx. 3,698) environmental artist, Erin Owen grew up with an instinctual love of the outdoors. 

“I was born in the country,” Owen recalled. “I was always outside. I was always taught, you know, those environmental perspectives of respecting the land.”

At the same time, Owen’s father worked in oil fields. The irony of her current position as an environmental artist isn't lost on her. But Owen makes this seeming contradiction in identity work to her advantage. She’s both humbled and driven by her roots. 

“When I say I’m from a small town I mean my mom was the local banker and my dad was in the oil field,” Owen said. “I think that is how I got so stuck on an oil field and environmentalism and what I can do to fix it.”

This inborn awe and concern for the natural world has transferred to Owen’s creative work. Her paintings and sculptures are imbued with a deep admiration of and concern for the environment. 

Unlike many kids who draw stick-figure families, when she was young, Owen depicted the environment around her. 

“I would always find myself drawing landscapes or leaves or flowers. anything in the natural world before I would even try to draw people,” Owen said. “You won’t find any sketches of people in any of my sketchbooks, because that’s not just what I did.”

Now pursuing a degree in art and education at Oklahoma State University, Owen’s artistic practice is largely based in research, taking news of environmental degradation as inspiration. That research lays the groundwork for her pieces. 

Top to Bottom: Desertification, Deforestation, Breakaway

Her project, “The Bigger Picture” (pictured above) includes depictions of the various effects of climate change. Melting glaciers, bare fields, and dried up lands—each painting is accompanied by information on these three crises, making Owen’s art about education as much as aesthetics.

Recently, Owen’s focus has been sculpture, which has allowed her a new, more conceptual approach to environmental issues. Her works “Arsenic Drip” and “Faucet” were on display at a recent Art House Show in Tulsa. These two large-scale installations explore issues of water conservation and water pollution.

Faucet on display at Art House Show

Both works were built from pipe cleaners and recycled plastic bags. Owen reported that she used approximately 5,000 bags for “Faucet” and around 6,000 for “Arsenic Drip.” The use of recycled materials plays back into her artistic praxis. Reused materials are part of the project— the vision of a waste-free, more environmentally-conscious world. 

Even as her work discusses the tragedies wrought by climate change, Owen’s work never feels didactic. Rather, it is an informative viewing experience; her sculptures and paintings are pleasantly edifying and impressively designed. 

Arsenic Drip

“I don’t want to guilt trip [viewers] into caring about things they should care about,” Owen explained. “But I definitely want to be like, ‘Hey this is happening, and maybe you should think about this. And if you do, then keep digging and growing.’”

You can see more of Owen’s work by following her on Instagram  Check out her website for more information about her past projects.