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Jen Trute's "Sunbathe Barbie at Bombay Beach" on display at "Endangered: Exploring California's Changing Ecosystem" exhibit at California Center for the Arts, Escondido. Photo by Steve Horn
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Nature, conservation themes adorn art and photo galleries

ESCONDIDO — They’re pressing issues of our epoch. And they’re also on display at two separate Escondido art venues.

The California Center for the Arts, Escondido and the The Photographer’s Eye: A Creative Collective have put art and photography featuring nature conservation and climate change impacts, both local and global and by sea and land, in the limelight to begin the new decade. For the photography collective, it’s the first time the gallery has done a standalone on gaia, paying homage to a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s book “Walden” in calling the exhibit “The Tonic of Wildness.”

“The Tonic of Wildness” features the work of two photographers: the United Kingdom-based Trai Anfield and the San Diego-based Marie Tartar. Anfield’s photos feature a glimpse at wildlife within the African continent, while Tartar takes it under the sea with shots of deepwater sea life.

“These two brilliant women photographers are dedicated to seeing and recording the nature that they encounter on land and sea in order that the rest of us understand how important it is to keep these creatures safe and wild,” said Donna Cosentino, the founder of and curator for The Photographer’s Eye.

In the future, Cosentino added that the collective will aim “to continue to educate and engage the public with relevant and expressive photographic genres on our walls.”

Tartar said that her brightly colored photography of coral life currently on exhibition aims to bring patrons to crevices of the planet they could “never experience firsthand.”

“Photography allows us to freeze motion and the use of strobes (flash) reveals the vivid color of sea creatures,” she wrote via email. “To successfully depict such creatures requires time and patience, combined with knowledge of habitat, specialized gear and second nature diving skills and buoyancy control.”

Tartar added that the coral reefs seen in her work at The Photographer’s Eye currently faces threats due both the impacts from climate change, as well as from industrial pollution.

“My hope is that depictions of the beauty and marvels of the underwater environment will encourage others to cherish and preserve our watery world,” she said.

Anfield, formerly a correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation, said she hopes her photography of wildlife in Africa puts a real-life face on the animals that live within it beyond the notion of pure exoticism. She said that she aimed to do so by getting photographs of them during different phases of the night, taken in a non-intrusive way to allow them to remain in their natural state.

“I always try to be hugely respectful of them and I don’t encroach closer than they would wish me to,” Andfield said. “I read body language of the animals and I’m always with experienced guides, as well. I’m experienced, but these guys are there day-in and day-out.”

Further, Anfield said she hopes the photographs will also serve as a call to action on behalf of biodiversity protection.

“As a routine, I donate 10% of my profit on print sales to Gorilla Doctors, which is a California-based veterinary service which works out in Africa providing veterinary care for the gorillas and literally saving the species, so they’re doing a fantastic job,” she said. “For this show, I’m donating 100% of the profits on the gorilla pictures and my usual 10% on the rest.”

The Center for the Arts works, meanwhile, bring the issue of conservation much closer to home, including a whole room devoted to chronicling the natural beauty of and conservation efforts at Hellhole Canyon Preserve in an exhibit called “Finding Heaven in Hellhole Canyon.” Located in Valley Center, Hellhole Canyon sits about 14.5 miles northeast of downtown Escondido.

“When we first started this, the idea of a land conservation group and the Arts Center doing a collaborative effort seemed at first odd, but actually artists from the very start of our humanity have been making representations of nature,” said Joaquin Aganza, president of Friends of Hellhole Canyon. “And so for me, it was very natural to do this, as what we look at what some people see as just dry brush or land that’s just waiting to be developed, it’s actually what keeps us alive. The artists help us see that.”

In the Center for the Arts’ other main room is a panoply of art called “Endangered: Exploring California’s Changing Ecosystem.”

“I really believe in the power of art to spark change and bring awareness to such important issues that are facing our environment right now,” said Danielle Deary, the curator for “Endangered,” also noting that there are 200 endangered species in San Diego County alone — more than any other county in the United States. “Through a diverse range of media, the 21 artists in this exhibition bring awareness to some of the issues facing these threatened species, including climate change, pollution and habitat alteration.”

Beyond the work of professional artists and as the Center for the Arts does for all of its compilations, the art of area students also has its own section, adorning the entire wall of the long hallway connecting the disparate parts of the exhibitions to one another. Their art also has mission statements, with many expressing fear and sorrow for what a climate change-fueled future might look like.

One of those is titled, “Hollyw,” with the letters “ood” cut off from the end. The painting imagines what one of California’s most iconic landmarks, the Hollywood Sign, could look like in a climate changed future.

“My depiction of a world-renowned famous landmark as a desolate, scorched wasteland forces the viewer to analyze the possible effects of climate change and desertification in our own lives,” wrote Nathan Vinh, an 11th-grader attending Mission Hills High School in San Marcos.

“The Tonic of Wildness” will remain through Feb. 15, while the Center for the Arts exhibits will remain through March 8.