Joseph Smolinski, M.F.A., whose recent recognitions include an Artist-In-Residence award at the Yale University Art Gallery, looks forward to continuing to use his art to explore technology and humans’ impact on the environment.
Sept 1, 2021
For Joseph Smolinski, M.F.A., leisure time – not that he has much – often inspires his creativity. That’s exactly what happened one day when he was beachcombing with his family in West Haven, Conn., and he began to find sea coal on the beach.
Surprised by how much of it he found, he was eager to learn more about it and where it had come from. His curiosity led him to research that explored climate change and humans’ impact on the environment. He expects the sea coal he found likely came from natural deposits or that it came off of ships.
Prof. Smolinski’s findings inspired his new project, “Carbon Adrift.” He is using sea coal that washed up on the Connecticut shoreline to create mosaics – specifically, he is creating sunsets. For Prof. Smolinski, he believes his work raised meaningful questions about energy use and the environment, and he hopes it will inspire others to also think critically and ask questions.
“Making an image out of sea coal reflects the use of fossil fuels and their impact on oceans,” explains Prof. Smolinski, an art and design lecturer at the University. “Taking a photo of a setting sun and translating it to an all-black image using sea coal has meaning behind it.
“I like the idea of sunset as a metaphor,” he continued. “Coal was once living, and it got energy from the sun. How many sunsets did it take for this sea coal to develop? Life became a fuel source we could use, and it comes from the sun.”
‘This support is critical to an artist’s development’
This project recently earned Prof. Smolinski a Connecticut Sea Grant Arts Support Award. The program, now in its 12th year, invests in artists who create works that are related to themes such as coastal and marine environments.
“It’s a great opportunity for artists in Connecticut to focus on the resource we have in Long Island Sound,” he said. “I am thrilled to be a part of this.”
In addition to this award, Prof. Smolinski has also been recognized by the Yale University Art Gallery and Artspace New Haven. He was recently selected as a Happy and Bob Doran Connecticut Artist-In-Residence Awardee. The program enables artists to participate in a yearlong residency at Yale University Art Gallery, culminating in a group exhibition at Artspace in New Haven in 2022.
Out of nearly 100 applicants, Prof. Smolinski was one of five Connecticut-based artists who were selected for this opportunity, which will provide support, community, and a financial award.
“I’m thrilled to have been selected for this residency,” he said. “This is an exciting opportunity, and it can change an artist’s career. This support is critical to an artist’s development. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with other artists.”
‘Creating something beautiful but also making a poetic statement’
As part of his residency, Prof. Smolinski plans to use digital fabrication processes to perform a 3D scan of objects in the Yale art collection, and he’ll use that to create new art. He’ll start by thoroughly researching the collection, and he’s looking forward to the opportunities he will have to work with new materials.
Technology – including 3D scanning – plays an integral role in his work. Prof. Smolinski, who often works with digital media, drawing, and sculpture, uses art to explore the role of technology in the environment. He endeavors to create art that raises important questions.
“These projects directly impact what I do in the classroom,” said Prof. Smolinski, who also completed a residency in New York this summer. “I want to do more research, continue to explore technology and different ways of thinking, and to keep bringing what I learn into the classroom.”
Prof. Smolinski hopes his research, his art, and the themes he explores will contribute to a wider discussion. He hopes to eventually make his recent work and findings into a PSA, of sorts, by developing a website. He envisions the project as a collaboration with scientists, such as marine biologists and geologists.
“We must be considerate of how we use energy and treat the environment,” he said. “Awareness is important. My work is about creating something beautiful but also making a poetic statement.”