Associate professor of painting William Hawk has been working at the University of Missouri for almost fourteen years, and his continued efforts to create a more sustainable department have made a significant impact on the practices of his students and colleagues.
Since his arrival at MU, Hawk has noticed issues of sustainability rise to the forefront in the art department and the art community in general.
“I think the campus is a lot more conscious about recycling and managing waste than it was when I first got here,” Hawk said. “When I first got here, I set up recycling for our bottles in laundry hampers. Now, throughout the department, you’re seeing other professors doing similar things. For example, in the paint room, we’ve added a recycling solvent system so we aren’t just going through solvent like we used to.”
The solvent system in the paintroom is essentially a simple filtering system that separates environmentally-harmful solvent from water used to wash paintbrushes. The paint and solvent settles to the bottom of the tank, allowing the comparatively cleaner water to rise the top and be extracted. The department leaves the toxic chemicals to be disposed of properly by MU’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety.
In addition to filtering toxins out of waste, Hawk said the art department is making sustainable choices when selecting materials.
“We’re also using chemicals that are a lot less harmful to the environm-
ent. We’ve shifted the pigments we use away from the more toxic chemicals to more benign ones.”
The Environmental Protective Agency puts paint on its top-five list of environmental hazards, a ranking that resonates deeply with many artists. Hawk says he has seen a developing trend among painters to decrease their toxic footprint while continuing to create art.
“There are a lot of art schools that are really taking [sustainability] seriously,” Hawk said. “Of course, there are artists that make work specifically about these issues. That’s their cause and the meaning of their work. Instead of buying new paint, they’ll use the medium of collage more. They’re really making environmentally-conscious choices about the materials they use.”
Story and photos by Batul Hassan