The visual story of pollution in art history begins in the nineteenth century and continues to this day. The “dirty but beautiful” impression is the earliest witness of (polluted) air in touch with industry in the paintings of English artist Turner. Turner did not realize it at the time, but the red and green pigments that colored the skies of his paintings are the first evidence of air pollution levels from a few centuries ago.
Little was known about pollution at the time, and until 1829, no scientist tried to track the dangerous dust that hovered in the sky. Factories arose, trains soon spread, and volcanoes erupted — as in the instance of the Indonesian Tambora, which ejected 36 cubic miles of shattered rock into the atmosphere in 1815, resulting in 365 days without summer the next year. It’s difficult to admit, but the gloriously strange sunsets we see in Turner’s paintings – a little red, a little orange – are frequently not the consequence of nature, but the opposite.
From 1775 until 1851, the intellectual found himself representing an unarmed nature in the face of the first steam trains’ speed and the first factory odors. He saw Britain establish itself as the definitive symbol of colonial and industrial power just before laying the brush. Turner’s favorite horizon must have been the all-comet panorama. Today, Turner’s (nearly) integrated production is on display at Tate Britain in the exhibition Turner’s Modern World, demonstrating how fascinated the artist was by the implications of the cucuzzoli of the trains in action or the industrial ones.
Downpour, Steam, and Speed (1844) – representing a locomotive rushing through a British rain – is undoubtedly Turner’s most renowned picture, and with it, Turner immortalized pollution and the symbols of industrialization and development for the first time in art history. Atmospheric pollution has been an intrinsic aspect of artistic and literary development since that time.
Art is now being used to combat plastic waste in the oceans and rivers. Our seas and rivers, which are becoming more smothered by plastic, are emitting dull cries for aid. The art world has always had the societal job of representing the times’ alarms, sicknesses, and fears, and it still understands what is the issue of our century: pollution of the seas and rivers. The Sarno River, for example, has been ravaged by a massive volume of garbage near its mouth, as observed by Greenpeace. The Sarno is regarded as Europe’s most polluted river.
Here hundreds of children collected plastic from the banks. An initiative was carried out by the artist Nello Petrucci: an Italian artist, who, with his creations, wants to promote the defense of an environment that has been violated for too long. His work ‘Plastic River’ is an allegory of our times: a fish with plastic bags in its mouth to symbolize how much the presence of this material in marine waters is destroying the fauna and flora of these environments. He is not limited to artistic representation and organizes initiatives to take concrete action on the environment in order to clean it up.