Kim Abeles, a longtime Los Angeles resident, has been using her art to bring awareness to pollution and climate change for years. A gallery at California State Fullerton is now open with Abeles’ exhibition titled “Kim Abeles: Smog Collectors, 1987-2020.”

The exhibition showcases over 30 years of work from the Southern California artist. Her works utilize the particle matter from smog and air pollution in Los Angeles. She was first inspired to use smog as a medium when she moved to Los Angeles in the 70s and was shocked to hear residents insisting that the dark blanket on the city was just fog.

She started experimenting with this medium to create her artwork. She would place a cut stencil over a canvas and leave it on her roof to collect particles anywhere from a few days to a month. The smoke would draw the image, creating a narrative of pollution. She then secured the smog particles in place using methylcellulose. She has called herself “a stenographer of the skyline”.

Abeles’ work is thought-provoking and brings awareness to the real problem of pollution we have in large cities such as Los Angeles. She often draws inspiration for her art from real-life events. One group of paintings in the exhibition was left on her roof for 12 days when the 1992 LA Riots began, collecting smoke and fire from particles from the civil unrest below.

A famous series on display at Fullerton is the commemorative plates of American presidents which she made in 1992 by exposing each plate to the air between 4-40 days. Each president was placed outside for as long as she felt would adequately represent the specific president’s environmental record.

For example, the Jimmy Carter portrait was left outside for 8 days and is faint on the porcelain plate, and in contrast, Ronald Reagan who was left outside for 40 days, is much darker and smeared with particle matter. Abeles commented, “Carter put solar panels on the White House and Reagan took them down.”

Karen Moss, an art historian, also noted that Abeles has been on a more than 30-year fight with environmental issues, “before other artists jumped in to do what we now call eco-art.” Abeles has also done significant work on AIDS/H.I.V and domestic violence.

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