Rising oceans, artist perspective

The first rule of storytelling is show, don't tell. And it's hard to imagine a better example than "Our Expanding Oceans," a new visual-art exhibit that shows the planet's seas and waterways rising.

The exhibit is based on a new book, "Global Climate Change: A Primer," written by renowned climate scientist Orrin Pilkey with his son Keith Pilkey. To visually make the point about the effects of climate change, the book is illustrated with Mary Edna Fraser's striking batik paintings. Fraser's full-size originals make up the exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.

"How I approach art and how Orrin approaches science are so different," Fraser said. "He and I will argue and argue and argue until we come up with an image that portrays the relevant scientific laws in a way that's pertinent, visually and emotionally."

More than 50 paintings make up the exhibit. Not all are directly tied to climate change. Paintings depict an iceberg, Mount Kilimanjaro and underwater wildlife around Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

But the most attention-getting works are the ones that give a sense of changes resulting from global warming.

One depicts how much of the South Carolina coast (including Fraser's hometown of Charleston) will be underwater by the year 2100, based on projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Another is a startling before-and-after view of the widening of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers around St. Louis over a five-year period. And one eye-catching painting contrasts shades of orange, green and blue in a way that suddenly seems less lovely once you realize it's a rendition of BP's Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"That's something pretty, and it came out of something that was pretty ugly," Fraser said of the oil spill picture.

Fraser is a master dyer in batik, a type of painting that predates the Middle Ages. She draws each picture on cloth with pencil and applies wax and dye before setting it with an iron, chemically bonding the dye to the cloth.

The show's centerpiece is Fraser's depiction of Buckminster Fuller's 1930 Dymaxion Map, the first to show a properly proportioned flat map of Earth's continents. Fraser also works from satellite images or her own aerial photos, although she does a lot less flying and shooting herself nowadays, thanks to Google Earth satellite images.

Of course, there are those who deny global warming - "The Global Warming Denial Lobby," in Pilkey's parlance in the book. "Our Expanding Oceans" invites you to see it with your own eyes.

"An ugly picture is not going to get the point across," Fraser said. "This makes a difficult subject more palatable. Art speaks loudly."