"As we should all be realizing, our world is suffering a catastrophic environmental crisis, the likes of which we have never previously witnessed," writes Kurt Jackson in the introduction to his new book Biodiversity, another high-quality publication in a long line of distinguished books and catalogs produced by the Jackson Foundation in Cornwall, UK. The crisis described by Jackson is the worldwide threat to biodiversity, the phenomenon that one of the book's contributing writers, Professor Juliet Osborne, calls "the planet's life support system."
Like Jackson's previous book Place, published in 2014, Biodiversity features essays and commentary contributed by a select field of prominent scientists, activists and academics that not only define the crisis and clarify the issues, but also amplify the power of the artist's beautiful images of nature that comprise the core of the project. "I think of biodiversity as nature's kaleidoscope with endless patterning, reflection and refraction," Professor Osborne writes. "It is of course possible to explain how a kaleidoscope works via a few laws of light and sight--but that doesn't make my heart skip a beat like actually viewing it does . . . Kurt's work reminds us of the wonder we have all found in the scenic view to the horizon and in the detail of whatever is crawling around in a rockpool or a roadside verge."
Evaluated in concert, the work of the contributing writers reflects the significance of Jackson's achievement in conveying the importance of protecting the fragile beauty and ecological integrity of the natural world now threatened by global species extinction rates that American environmental writer Elizabeth Kolbert says "are now hundreds--perhaps thousands--of times higher than the so-called background rates that applied over most of geological time."
Richard Mabey, an eloquent contributor to Jackson's book Place, is back with a stern reminder that "If we are serious about saving biodiversity (as we must be) then we must look beyond judging nature purely in terms of our own values and needs." The failure to heed Mabey's imperative has grim consequences, as reported by Professor Lord John Krebs:"The Zoological Society of London's Living Planet index," he writes, "concludes that vertebrate populations world-wide have declined by two thirds in the past half century, the Royal botanic Gardens Kew estimates that two in five plant species are threatened with extinction and the National History Museum calculates that the UK has lost half its natural biodiversity."
Joining the chorus of concern about the biodiversity crisis is Up Shits Creek author and environmentalist George Moribot who chronicles the decline of the river ecosystems throughout the UK. "Their decline mirrors another collapse," he writes, "the collapse of effective regulation." Contributor Tim Smit's essay explores the metaphysical dimensionof the book as he describes the "spiritual urge" at play in mankind's link to the "magical weft and weave" of the web of life and the need to respond with compassion and humility. BBC producer Gillian Burke's delightful poetic commentary extends Smit's theme averring that "Biodiversity is not just the spice of life, but the variety that gives life on earth its resilience and staying power. It is the seed bank of life that gives the biosphere its resilience and supreme adaptability. Biodiversity is nature's answer to the constantly changing physical matrix of our planet and makes life possible on this 'third rock from the sun.'"
There's a consensus among the contributors that in his aesthetic response to the crisis, Jackson accomplishes the mission of fulfilling Lord Kreb's admonition that "Appreciating the wonder of Nature is the first rung on the ladder to understanding and action." Dave Matthews, Collections & Exhibitions Manager, Southhampton Cultural Services, for example, writes that Jackson's "distinctive style, deep awareness of his surroundings and acute sensitivity to nature are clearly evident in the body of work created for Biodiversity, which causes us to take stock of what is really around us and reflect on the delicate equilibrium of our planet's fragile ecosystem."
Jon Bennington, Gallery Manager, Victoria Art Gallery, points out that "Biodiversity is one of the key signs of a healthy planet," and further notes that "by bio-mapping a range of diverse locations for this project, Jackson has effectively created a series of position statements that, aided by their considerable aesthetic appeal, amount to a celebration of the benefits to be derived from a non-invasive engagement with nature."
Jackson for his part, has created a collection of superb images that evoke an emotional bond with the biological world via their visual charm which is intensified by the heightened anxiety that accompanies the prospect of the catastrophic losses already resulting from climate change. But it's more than just the allure of the pictures the makes Jackson's art so invaluable as a conduit for individual enlightenment and the broader social action that will hopefully ensue. In presenting the hard scientific facts about the biodiversity crisis in the context of his beautiful paintings, Jackson has succeeded in making a grave and difficult topic more accessible and comprehensible than might otherwise be the case if the matter were framed in a traditional academic or journalistic format. There is an empowering, transubstantiating force in Jackson's art that speaks directly to our awareness of the urgency of the problem and inspires the desire to be part of the solution.