By Jane Johnston, Circle of Blue
Greg Mort didn’t intend to devote his career as an artist to the preservation of the environment.
Indeed, his art has always reflected his fascination with science. “As a young person,” he said of growing up in the original space age, “I marveled at the idea of all of that adventure.”
Even now, he said, he’s more interested in talking to scientists than other artists. “Most of the people that I sort of hang out with or know are astrophysicists or biologists,” he said.
“Greg is very science oriented,” said Nadine Mort, Greg’s wife and Creative Director of their foundation Art of Stewardship. “And then I think it just comes out sort of naturally in (his) artwork.”
In 1991, Greg painted two apples — a common muse in his work. One piece of the fruit was golden, and the other was made to look like the western hemisphere with a white price tag hanging off of it. At the time, he said he was just hoping to surprise his audience.
“Nadine had just gone to some yard sale and she had a bunch of these little tags,” he recalled. “Just as a point of texture in the work, I thought it would be interesting to hang that on the stem of the Earth apple.”
After the painting was finished, though, it took on a life of its own. One man, Greg said in an email, interpreted the image as a commentary on the environment.
“His perspective enlightened my own awareness that this painting had a special destiny and mission,” he said.
Eventually the painting, now known as “Stewardship,” caught the eye of then-President Bill Clinton and hung in the halls of the White House for Clinton’s tenure. Greg even painted a second iteration of the portrait for Vice President Al Gore.
Greg said that the experience made him understand how “imagery could really send a message and inspire people.”
For the next several years, Greg and Nadine Mort cultivated relationships with leaders in environmental science and activism, including Circle of Blue Co-Founder J. Carl Ganter.
“After meeting Carl,” Nadine said, “we were so impressed with him and the mission of Circle of Blue — that water is climate and climate is water.”
In 2007, the Morts founded the Art of Stewardship Foundation, a nonprofit that encourages artists to work with environmental groups to make environmental responsibility a “subconscious” effort.
In the time since the foundation began, the couple has worked with creatives and organizations all over the country, hosting workshops, lectures, and art exhibits. But it hasn’t always been an easy journey. Greg and Nadine said there have been many times when large organizations didn’t want to involve themselves in issues that could be seen as political or polarizing, including being outspoken about climate change.
But recently, the tides have shifted. This year, Greg’s paintings will be featured in art and climate exhibits at the Peabody Essex Museum and Rockefeller Center.
“More and more,” Nadine said, “the arts, I think, are part of the dialogue.”
Jane is a Communications Associate for Circle of Blue. She writes The Stream and has covered domestic and international water issues for Circle of Blue. She is a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University, where she studied Multimedia Journalism and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. During her time at Grand Valley, she was the host of the Community Service Learning Center podcast Be the Change. Currently based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jane enjoys listening to music, reading and spending time outdoors.