Ferdinand “Fred” Breglia sees faces in objects all around him, but he doesn’t like much of what they see.
A certified arborist, schooled in horticulture and filled with enthusiasm for trees and the natural world, the self-taught artist has been painting a gloomy picture of Earth’s future for the past five years.
As he works to get ready for an upcoming show, Breglia said his paintings are a warning for people to change the way they use and misuse their environment.
Despite the ominous and pessimistic images that fill most of his work and his stated belief that environmental damage has already slid past “the tipping point” from more than 100 years of industrial pollution, the 35-year-old Breglia says, “My message isn’t to give up.”
Technology has helped ease some of the environmental problems, but people’s lifestyles need to adapt and simplify, he said.
“We’ve been waiting for [political] leaders,” he said, “but when the people lead, the leaders will follow.”
At the same time, Breglia subscribes to what he called “the Titanic theory.”
He noted that even after the famed luxury ship hit a North Atlantic iceberg in 1912, “the passengers danced and drank, and had sex … but a few hours later the ship went down.
“The way we are living, there’s no way we’re not going to be crashing,” Breglia said.
“But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is hope that we can slow it down,” he said.
Breglia, a Cobleskill native and SUNY Cobleskill plant sciences graduate, will open the Tri County Arts Council’s 2009 season on Feb. 6 with a monthlong solo show at the council’s Gallery 107, on Union Street in Cobleskill.
“It’s pretty cool stuff,” said Tri County director Mark Eamer. “It’s powerful work, and he really has to something to say,” he said Thursday.
One of the show’s centerpieces will be “The Gyre,” a still-incomplete blend of plaster molds made from his and his wife Erin’s faces, amid three-dimensional shapes of plastic bottles, forks, computer ink cartridges and other modern plastic trash covered with murky layers of acrylic paint.
“I’m trying to get the color of sludge,” Breglia said.
“The Gyre” is named after an area in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii where environmental researchers have discovered that currents tend to create a watery wasteland of all sorts of plastic debris discarded from countries, garbage barges and ships. It’s one of at least five such gyres identified in the world’s oceans.
“Almost every piece of plastic that’s ever been created still exists,” Breglia believes. He said researchers have found traces of plastic toxins in most people worldwide.
Breglia said the idea for the show, “Global Warming! When Trees Talk,” grew from a painting tentatively called either “Armageddon” or “The End.” It was the start of his shift to painting after the more bucolic pencil or charcoal drawings he had created since he was a child.
The 16-by-20-inch canvas glows with a smoldering firelike orange over impressionistic shapes he sees as trees but some people see as burning buildings. It was the first of about 15 paintings focused on what Breglia believes will be the results of global warming and mankind’s pollution.
“My mother calls it ‘Christ on the Waters,’ ” Breglia said, noting a vague statuesque shape rising from the fiery glow.
Although Breglia noted that some people see religious images in some of his paintings, he said that is not his theme.
“I do believe in God and Jesus Christ,” he said. But at the same time, he thinks God reveals himself in different ways to different cultures, including American Indian and Buddhist societies — and particularly in the natural world.
As director of horticulture and operations for the Landis Arboretum in Esperance, a few miles from his Burtonville home, Breglia is especially interested in ancient forests and incorporates trees into much of his work.
A 3-by-4-foot canvas titled “Roots” features faces in and around a gnarled, twisted tree.
“It’s really my family tree,” Breglia said.
The faces, more visible from several feet away, include images of himself and his father, mother, brother, sister and other family members.
The show’s theme painting, “Global Warming,” is an approximately 3-by-4-foot acrylic of the arboretum’s signature 400-year-old white oak on fire.
Masks from various cultures cover the walls of his home, and images of human and animal faces filling a large painting called “4D” seem to follow observers around the room.
“I have this vision that the human beings and the environment are on a collision course … and what happens to us has already happened to animals that have gone extinct,” Breglia said.