Black Gold
In this series, Hughen/Starkweather continue their investigation into climate change, focusing on the environmental impact of food systems, particularly food packaging and food waste. For the works in this series, the artists used ink and pencil to trace the outlines of single-use plastic food packaging typically found in a grocery store — for example, the clear clamshell lettuce packaging and the plastic containers that hold tomatoes or strawberries. The resulting abstract works on paper reference impacted landscapes, molecular structures, and biochemical and biological processes. The series title Black Gold refers simultaneously to compost (which sequesters carbon in the soil, removing it from the atmosphere) and to petroleum (a primary ingredient in plastic). During the project, the artists researched the impacts of food consumption, including packaging, disposal, and transport, and the possibility that compost can mitigate climate change. The resulting artworks do not attempt to offer solutions, but hope to prompt questions and new perspectives on an increasingly urgent topic.

Below are a few of the works in this series. For more information or to view additional works from this series, please contact the artists. More information about our process here.


Food, Landfill, Methane, Ink, pencil, and gouache on paper, 35 x 30 in., 2018
“Once food reaches the landfills, the scraps begin to decompose, releasing methane gas into the atmosphere. Methane gas has a warming potential of roughly 21 times that of carbon dioxide, meaning it has an even larger impact on the global climate than CO2.” Anna Martin, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University


Like straws sipping carbon from the air
16.75 x 12.5 in., Ink, acrylic, gouache, colored pencil on paper, 2018

“Creque had an answer for him. The carbohydrates that fattened the cows had come from the atmosphere, by way of the grass they ate. Grasses, he liked to say, were like straws sipping carbon from the air, bringing it back to earth. Creque’s quiet observation stuck with Wick and Rathmann. It clearly illustrated a concept that Creque had repeatedly tried to explain to them: Carbon, the building block of life, was constantly flowing from atmosphere to plants into animals and then back into the atmosphere. And it hinted at something that Wick and Rathmann had yet to consider: Plants could be deliberately used to pull carbon out of the sky.” Velasquez-Manoff, Moises, “Can Dirt Save the earth?” The New York Times, 18 April 2018


Creatures big and mobile enough to flee
Ink, gouache, acrylic paint, and pencil on paper, 34 x 34 in., 2018

“Like a tornado spinning through a small town, the churning steel of the plow scrambles microbial communities, separating and disorganizing symbiotic partners, chasing out worms and other creatures big and mobile enough to flee.” Horn, Mirian, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland, W.W. Norton Foundation, 2016


The other greenhouse gas
Ink, acrylic, pencil, gouache on paper, 35.75 x 46 in., 2018


Secret Superpower
16h x 20 in., Ink, acrylic, dirt, gouache, colored pencil on paper, 2018


Breathing methane gas
Ink, colored pencil and gouache on paper, 7.5 x 8.25 in., 2018


Bleeding carbon
Ink, pencil, acrylic and gouache on paper, 61 x 42 in., 2018


Airtight wraps
Ink, colored pencil, gouache and acrylic on Gampi paper, 12 x 11 in., 2018

“The disposable plastic products we use everyday can take over 400 years to biodegrade. The booming production of plastics in recent years, partly fueled by demand for single-use items such as coffee cups and bottled water, means the world has manufactured more plastic in the last decade than in the whole of the previous century.” Wright, Mike. “The stark truth about how long your plastic footprint will last on the planet,” The London Telegraph, 10 January 2018