Erika Huddleston trained as an artist before working for several years as a landscape architect. In 2011, she returned to painting, inspired by her observations—over 500 hours’ worth—of a section of Shoal Creek in Austin, Texas. Here, she discusses how human intervention has affected these watery environs, and how those changes are reflected on her canvases.
“As a child, I remember hearing about how the world began. I always thought of it as covered in green lawn, because I thought that was the natural state of nature. Like, if we didn’t do anything, the whole world would be a lawn. Obviously, lawns are the opposite of letting nature do its thing. Growing up in Dallas, everything was very controlled. Now, I like the idea of the unknown and the sublime. I think we’re all geared towards trying to experience risk.
I’ve been working on the Shoal Creek series since 2011. Shoal Creek feels like no humans have ever been there. I would go and write down what I saw, logging all of the environmental changes I saw and then creating paintings from my observations. The most obvious change was the flooding, which is constantly occurring. As an ecological phenomenon, Shoal Creek is collecting all the storm water that accumulates on the street from housing developments. The water eventually flows into the Colorado River, which then goes down to the Gulf of Mexico—it’s a huge pollution issue. I would notice broken branches caught in trees 10 feet up because of the flooding. But I found those tree branches to be profound, like a poetic reminder. Environmental change is happening, and it’s happening because of the surrounding property. But people have the chance to reverse these flood patterns by making small changes, like installing gravel instead of concrete or having cisterns to collect the water that comes off their roofs.
Humans are influencing natural environmental phenomena through our built material. What happens when that water becomes more powerful downstream? Does it kill an animal or plant species over time? I think these rhythms of nature are important to connect with on a personal level.”
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