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Environmental expressions

Provincewide student exhibit in Surrey highlights teens’ thoughts about the planet.
Fifty artworks chosen from hundreds submitted from B.C. high school students were chosen for the Earthwise exhibit on now in Surrey. Sullivan Heights Secondary student Thomas Nelles’ digital work was one of the chosen pieces. It shows a futuristic

What does the environment mean to B.C. high school students?

Many see it as abused, unappreciated and neglected by humans – a place where toxins are taking over, the natural world is suffering and food, water, air and other necessities of life are becoming increasingly scarce or unsafe.

Other teens, however, view the environment as a place of hope and beauty, teeming with plants and wildlife, with children playing and dreaming in a world they love and cherish.

The diverse, creative and colourful viewpoints are on display right now in Surrey, the host city for Earthwise, a juried show of artwork by Grade 9 to 12 students from across the province.

Fifty pieces of multi-media artwork were chosen by jurors from about 300 submitted by students from 53 public and private schools in 25 communities from Chetwynd to Campbell River. Students were simply asked: “What does the environment mean to you?”

Jury members were Jim Adams, chairman of the Surrey Public Art Advisory Committee, Burns Bog president Eliza Olson and Brian Foreman, assistant curator of the Surrey Art Gallery.

Many of the artworks appear obvious in their message, such as Langley Fine Art School student Alex Honeywell’s Tip of the Iceberg, in which the portion of the iceberg below the water is comprised of compressed styrofoam cups. Fleetwood Park Secondary’s Stuart Brookes’ piece, with a polar bear and penguin living like homeless people in an alley, also conveys an easy-to-get message.

Other pieces, like that of Thomas Nelles of Surrey’s Sullivan Heights Secondary, requires a bit more explanation. Called Cultural Entropy, he says his all-digital work depicts a post-apocalyptic world, circa 2083.

“Adam and Eve are the only people left on earth,” Nelles, a Grade 11 student, says of his complicated, thematic, multi-layered print. “They hope to gain more knowledge ... so they can mend the world.”

Emily Lee, also in Grade 11 at Sullivan, was the only student to have two paintings chosen for the show – both very different from one another. One, called The Wonder Years, is brightly coloured, with six children lying in the grass, their faces replaced with images of skies and mountainscapes and oceans.

“I felt we need to keep their dreams real – make their dreams come true,” says Lee.

Her other painting, Pieta, is a much darker, Michaelangelo-inspired work – a futuristic image of people gazing up at a monument of a woman cradling a whale – a creature that’s clearly extinct.

The show is eclectic, not only in subject matter, but in media as well, with painting and drawing complemented with collage and digital work. There’s even an intricate piece carved into wood and then painted.

“We’re proud of this one because I think we’ve pushed the envelope,” said Surrey art teacher Marc Pelech, one of the show’s organizers.

Earthwise is on until April 30 at Newton Cultural Centre, 13530 72 Ave. and as of today (April 20), can be viewed online on the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development website ( The exhibit will then move to the Langley Centennial Museum through May and June.

The finalists (first place from Surrey, second from Richmond, third from Langley) will be announced at a student recognition gala event Friday (April 22) at 6:30 p.m. at the Newton Cultural Centre.