As around 210 million gallons of oil seeped into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, associate art professor Kathleen Thum realized how disconnected she had been from a material embedded in her everyday life. Oil surrounds us yet remains somewhat mysterious. Since the Deepwater Horizon spill, Thum has been creating works of art with used motor oil.

Her piece “Full Flow,” pictured, has been exhibited at the Pearl Conrad Art Gallery at Ohio State University; the Spartanburg Art Museum in Spartanburg; the Wilson Hall Gallery at the University of Alabama; the Wiseman Gallery at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass, Oregon; and the Thompson Gallery at Furman University in Greenville.

Her thoughts on the piece 

I want the viewer to feel but also to think. I’ve organized the composition to be layered with a more structured form on the top, transitioning into more chaotic and organic forms below. My thoughts behind this are to communicate a transition of controlled energy to uncontrolled energy, a transition of man-made to the natural, a transition from known to unknown. I would like viewers to feel this shift in energy, but I would also like the viewer to ask questions of the work and to become engaged with the work intellectually. As the viewer becomes aware that the work of art was partially created using used motor oil, I hope to disrupt and interfere with their expectations of how one experiences oil in our Western world. I would like for the viewer to reflect, if only for an instant, on how oil is an integral part of our contemporary existence yet remains a mysterious and unknown substance, contained and controlled by the industry.”

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