The devastating effects of global warming on polar ice caps and worldwide sea levels are among the most visible consequences of rising temperatures, but they creep up slowly: Lower Manhattan may well one day be underwater, but no one has yet gone swimming in SoHo. It is easy to ignore rising sea levels when nothing seems to be happening, but Frank Lind’s “Sea-Level” paintings ask viewers to take another look.
Lind, a professor of Fine Arts at Pratt Institute, had been painting the ocean “for years” before he became interested in the effects of global warming on the visual landscape. When he heard about the Sea Grant, for artists who explore the effects of the ocean on coastal communities, he revisited his completed paintings of the ruined Fort Tilden barracks in Gateway National Park, Queens. Inspired by images of the flooding of Westhampton beach in the 90s, Lind re-painted the already haunting barracks under an imagined premise: that the Greenland ice sheet, the second-largest in the world, had melted entirely, causing a global sea level rise of 15 feet. Though this premise is imaginary, it is not necessarily unimaginable.
“It’s alarming, what’s happening to that ice sheet,” says Lind. “It seems to be falling apart faster than anybody thought it would,” and has begun to “accelerate of its own accord.” Most recently, in August 2010, one-fourth of the ice cap’s largest glacier broke off and slid into the ocean, and continues to melt at a rate of nearly fifty cubic miles per year. Scientists predict that sea levels could rise three feet by the end of the century, and up to twenty-four feet within a few hundred years, but Lind wanted his scenario to be “like a catastrophe movie, where everything has to happen in an hour.” The resulting images, of barracks half-submerged in tides and once-dry beaches invaded by the ocean, deliver the visceral jolt of alarm that facts and statistics cannot. They make visible the invisible future, making the incremental effects of global warming immediate and confronting viewers with an eventual reality that is inevitable unless those viewers take action against global climate change.
Lind’s paintings can be seen in his studio, located in Downtown Brooklyn, and in the upcoming Pratt faculty art show. He has extended his Sea-Level series beyond Fort Tilden and is currently working on an image of Riis Park, Brooklyn, in which a flooded clock tower stands as a reminder that while time may move slowly, it is still running out. Lind says he has found that “Painting takes [him] places where [he] might not otherwise go” and likewise, his artwork takes the viewer to a future that is not an idea but a very real place, in the hopes that this future might be altered.