Three recent paintings. Critical Condition is a stylized depiction of a forest fire, with threes engulfed in orange flames, white smoke, and a black sky. Flooded Corner is an impressionistic image of a house besieged by black, yellow, silver and pink waters. Smoldering is another painting of a forest fire, this time with against a late-afternoon sky of dark blue.
Monaghan's oil painting from her Stormy Weather series depict nature in distress. Clockwise, starting from top: Critical Condition, 2021; Flooded Corner (detail), 2022; Smoldering (detail), 2021.

One painter finds beauty—and despair— in our world's changing landscape.

For many of us, the anxiety around climate change can be crushing, numbing or even paralyzing. But for Kellyann Monaghan, professor and chair of Adelphi’s Department of Art and Art History, it’s an engine of artistic expression—and ultimately catharsis.

Kellyann Monaghan at the front of her class, commenting on colorful works on paper by students that are taped to the wall next to her. She is commenting on colorful works on paper that are taped to the wall.

Kellyann Monaghan, professor and chair of the Department of Art and Art History, uses landscapes to explore the drama of light, air and movement.

For nearly a decade, Monaghan has been creating landscape paintings that document our changing world. “I started obsessing over the weather because we were being barraged with constant news about it, and that led me to discover these videos of extreme weather events, like tornadoes and hurricanes,” she said. “I had such a strong gut reaction to the winds, all that chaos, and I wanted to paint what I saw. It’s about letting my feelings explode onto the page.”

While climate change as we know it is a uniquely modern phenomenon, Monaghan—a trained plein air painter who has captured vistas around the globe, from the coasts of Ireland to the rolling hills of rural France—sees her work as the latest chapter in a historical tradition. “English painters like Turner and Constable were documenting changes in their environments in the 1800s with the industrial revolution,” she noted. “I’m far from the first painter to be illustrating the destructive qualities of nature.”

Monaghan has exhibited her climate change pieces at a number of shows over the years, including a solo exhibition, Developing Conditions: Recent Landscape Paintings and Prints, at the Azarian McCullough Art Gallery at St. Thomas Aquinas College in February 2023. Now, however, she’s considering a shift in perspective. “I’m starting to focus on painting the sublime in the landscape— that moment at the beginning or end of a weather event where you feel fear but you’re also awed by its beauty,” she explained. “I’ve been listening to a climatologist who says it’s possible we can begin to control climate change, so I’m feeling some cautious optimism at the moment.”

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