Artist Draws Attention to Polluted Water

An artist never knows when inspiration will strike. It could come from the sun setting over the ocean, or a farmer’s field freshly blanketed with snow. But for East End painter Anne Seelbach, it was a mutant fish. Her series “Troubled Waters: Awareness and Solutions” is on display now at the Group for the East End’s Southold office.

Anne Seelbach and Judy Christrup, photo by N. Chowske
Anne Seelbach and Judy Christrup, photo by N. Chowske

“About two years ago, I was looking into the water in the upper Sag Harbor Cove, and I saw a very strange fish,” said Seelbach, who has been painting for more than 60 years. “It was as thin as a pencil, and it had an eye in the middle of its body.” Seeing this peculiar fish in person made the stories she’d heard about pollution-related mutations hit home, and she began painting to raise awareness.

“You read a lot of stuff in the paper and on the internet, and it’s all sort of out there. Then you see something that’s in your backyard, and all of a sudden, this is real and it’s here,” Seelbach said.

To help spread the word, Seelbach reached out to a number of Long Island environmental organizations, including Group for the East End, who happened to be preparing to get their Clean Water Campaign in motion.

“We’re an environmental advocacy and education organization, and we like to welcome people into our office in Southold at least three times a year for different art openings,” said Judy Christrup, director of development for the Group for the East End. “I’m an environmentalist, not an art person, but her paintings truly reflect the conflict between nature and the artificial environment,” she said. “You see colorful fish, and then you see things like sprockets. She does it in such a way, that you really feel like it’s multidimensional.”

Seelbach’s paintings are abstract representations of fish, combined with manmade mechanical forms. “The paintings are sort of a combination of possibly real fish, possibly imaginary fish, or fish that might evolve in this change of the makeup of the water,” she said. In her later pieces, she went so far as to stencil in the molecular structure of Atrazine, one of the herbicides known to be polluting Long Island’s waters.

“Her expression of the conflict between nature and artificial attempts to control the environment are in line with what we’re doing for our Clean Water Campaign,” Christrup said. The Clean Water Campaign was started in response to a report on drinking-water quality released by Suffolk County.

“We see a lot of nitrates, which means that the septic systems that we’re using to handle our waste aren’t really working, and nitrates are going into the bays and causing things like eelgrass runoff, brown-tides and red-tides and that sort of thing,” Christrup said. The Campaign is meant to push for stricter laws on chemical usage, as well as finding ways to finance system upgrades to help stop the problem. “We’re working with other organizations and governments on a multi-year plan to address that problem,” she said. “It’s one of those long administrative projects, but everyone will be happy when we succeed, because the water will be cleaner.”

Ensuring clean water in the future is Seelbach’s ultimate goal with this exhibition. “We all need clean water…It’s so basic but now it’s become an issue,” she said. By working with the Group for the East End, she has been able to spread her message further and faster.

“It’s very nice to have been able to collaborate with the Group for the East End,” Seelbach said. “Everything starts with an awareness, and once you have a serious problem that affects you, then you’re more willing to think about it and do something about it to create
a solution.”

Troubled Waters: Awareness and Solutions” will be on display at Group for the East End’s Southold office through December 21, and 30% of all art sales will go to support the Group. 631-765-6450,

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