Disappearing Forest I From Forest Fire Series, 2002, Acrylic On Paper By Marlene Yu (Chinese-American, Born 1937). Michele And Donald D’Amour Museum Of Fine Arts, 2020.02 And 2020.03.

Climate Connections: Marlene Yu’s Disappearing Forest I and II

In my search for the variations of the many faces in nature, I have found that nature provides an infinite source of inspiration for artistic expression. I love the many elements in our environment, be they as broad as the horizon beyond or small as cells under the microscope. In this vast setting, I hope to capture the spirit of the universe, its rhythm and movements, its quiet and angry moods, its colors and forms.—Marlene T. Yu

Artist Marlene T. Yu has long been inspired by nature, and humanity’s need to protect the earth that we inhabit. By transforming the patterns found in land, sea, and sky into stunning abstractions, she evokes the beauty and changeability of the natural world.

Born in Taiwan in 1937, Marlene T. Yu studied Chinese brush painting and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei before immigrating to the United States in 1963. By 1967, she had graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Colorado, Boulder and had become inspired by Abstract Expressionism, a style of painting that embraced form, color, and gesture as means of expressing one’s interior thoughts and emotions. Today, Marlene T. Yu continues to employ a signature technique that combines her training in traditional Chinese brushwork with an interest large-scale, abstract painting.

An early contributor to the Green Movement in art, Yu’s call for a heightened awareness of environmental issues began over five decades ago.  In 1965, she began to paint abstracted images of melting glaciers, inspiring a series that continues today. In many of Marlene T. Yu’s works, she continues to address environmental issues that concern scientists, activists, and world populations. “I hope through my art to convey an urgent message—earth is in danger, we must protect it together,” explains the artist.

Disappearing Forest I from Forest Fire Series, 2002, acrylic on paper by Marlene Yu (Chinese-American, born 1937). Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, 2020.02 and 2020.03.
Disappearing Forest II from Forest Fire Series, 2002, acrylic on paper by Marlene Yu (Chinese-American, born 1937). Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, 2020.02 and 2020.03.

Created in 2002, Yu’s Disappearing Forest I and II both responded to and seemed to predict the increase in frequency and severity of forest fires. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the western United States have experienced some of the warmest years on record in the last decade, contributing to life-threatening fires. According to the state of California’s website, 2020 was the largest wildfire season recorded in the state’s modern history, with nearly 10,000 fires burning over 4.2 million acres.

Disappearing Forest I and II, along with other paintings in Yu’s Forest Fire Series and Glacier Melting Series, is intended to be viewed not only as a rumination on climate change, but as a call to action. Proponents of the idea that art and life should intersect, Marlene T. Yu and her husband James Yu founded the Rainforest Art Foundation which aims to increase appreciation of nature through art. By advocating for art that addresses the environment, Yu aims to spread awareness and promote change.

To learn more about Marlene T. Yu’s work, and the prevention of forest fires, we invite you to explore the resources below.

Marlene Yu Museum

Rainforest Art Foundation

Forest Fire Control Prevention Information from offered by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation