Local Artists Use Ink Made From Carbon Emissions for CORE's Climate Billboard Project

Feb 21, 2020

Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) has invited four different valley artists to make 8-foot by 8-foot billboards for public display starting next week, and the pieces will have some things in common. They’ll all be black-and-white, bilingual, and contain the same slogan: “THIS ART IS
MADE FROM CARBON EMISSIONS / ESTA PIEZA ESTA HECHA CON
EMISIONES DE CARBONO.”

Chris Erickson using an AIR-Ink marker
Credit Kathleen Shannon

Each piece was created using a recently-developed substance called AIR-Ink, which is made from…air pollution. The inventor of the ink, a-NEE-rude Sharma, said this in his 2019 Ted Talk:

“There are factories around the world that are burning fossil fuels to make black inks that we use on an everyday basis, but given that millions of liters of fossil fuels are already being burned out there by our cars [and] our engines […], what if you could capture that pollution and use it to recycle and make those inks?”

Sharma’s question led to the development of AIR-Ink and the founding of Graviky Labs,
which continues to produce the ink. The lab makes one fluid ounce of ink from about forty-five
minutes of diesel engine pollution which, in turn, makes one marker.

Chris Erickson, one of the Carbondale billboard artists, said he used less than two markers to
create his billboard. Though he was skeptical of the ink’s quality when he agreed to the project,
it proved, pen-in-hand, to be fantastic.
There is a pointed commentary behind creating billboards—often seen from highways—with
vehicle emissions. That commentary is not lost on these artists.

Erickson, who has already been working in black-and-white in his recent collection, looks to create art with a flat, dense, and saturated finish. Utilizing the black-and-white scale in his work, Erickson said, is a “statement on the binary culture we live in [where] everything is very black and white and right and wrong. I really wanted to play with that.

As for the content of his piece, Erickson says “it’s a statement on industrialization” that “dovetails perfectly with the whole pursuit of the AIR-Ink agenda.” Brian Colley, the other Carbondale-based billboard artist, took a very different approach to implement the AIR-Ink. While he works primarily in painting and printmaking, he called on his background in watercolors for this project. He found the ink to be a very versatile substance that could be diluted and used with brushes and cloths.

“I’ve never painted with carbon emissions. Who gets to do that?” Colley said while talking about his billboard. “I’ve created a giant monster made out of cars,” he said with a laugh. “Carzilla,
if you will.”

For Erickson, the billboard project serendipitously aligns with a personal project: building a new home. In fact, he had already been working with CORE on creating a more sustainable heating plan for his home when they approached him about the Climate Billboard project.

There is significant overlap there, as the art supply and construction industries share similar challenges in sourcing sustainably-made materials and in disposing of their waste products responsibly. In this case, CORE’s initiative connects dots between the two. The billboard project is part of CORE’s second annual Imagine Climate, a month-long exploration of climate-based art born of the nonprofit’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 2019.

Lara Whitley, CORE’s Brand and Creative Strategy Director, says that they aim to create shifts in the systems and culture that are in place around climate change, and this initiative targets the cultural piece. Whitley describes the Climate Billboard Project as “deeply collaborative,” with more than four dozen speakers, artists, sponsors, and other partners involved. She says it is truly a project by the community, for the community.

The Climate Billboard Project will be opening at two free, public kickoff parties next week, Tuesday from 6 to 7:30 pm at The Launchpad in Carbondale and Wednesday at The Collective in Snowmass. AIR-Ink inventor Sharma will be giving speeches; the artists will be present to speak about their works; and there will be live carbon labs, music, and refreshments. Starting Tuesday, Erickson’s billboard will be on display at Lion’s Park in Basalt and Colley’s will be at The Launchpad in Carbondale. You can also find Kelly Peters’s work at The Collective in Snowmass, and Kate Howe’s in the Aspen Art Museum.