Medicine Hat artist Jessica Plattner explores the relationship between nature and the oil and gas industry in her exhibit If You Wander Far Enough at the Okotoks Art Gallery May 7 to June 18.

Medicine Hat artist hopes to instigate conversations about the connection between human activity and nature with her thought-provoking paintings.

Jessica Plattner is displaying 17 pieces from her exhibit If You Wander Far Enough in the Okotoks Art Gallery from May 7 to June 18, which feature images of abandoned pipelines in various stages of decay that are being observed by animals and people amidst vast landscapes.

“I am an environmentalist, but I also live in a house, I drive a car so I’m very aware of the hypocrisy of living in the world I live in,” she said. “I’m wanting to open up the conversation and to invite people to look at the world in a different way. When we talk about the environment it can get so polarized, especially in a place like Alberta when so many people work in the (oil and gas) industry.”

When Plattner moved to Medicine Hat from Oregon, she began hearing about the impact of oil pipelines on the environment in Alberta.

“When I moved here it was the height of the Keystone Pipeline controversy,” she said. “Coming from the states to here and hearing the different tones of the conversation I guess thinking about all those ideas in my everyday life got into the work somehow. Pipelines are in the physical landscape and the mental landscape of this place.”

The conversations Plattner was hearing came out in her paintings unintentionally.

“I didn’t set out to paint a bunch of pipelines - the paintings sort of turned into these snaky type images,” she said. “Then it clicked at a certain point that they are pipelines. It wasn’t an idea that I set out to do. The paintings came about in a really organic way. That imagery started to appear.”

Plattner begins each piece by building up colours on the canvas without making a plan for an image.

“Looking at the paintings you think they start with an idea, but they really don’t,” she said. “They start with colour on the canvas. I will include images of work in progress that show the canvas with a bunch of colours on it and show it forming into those images.”

Once the paintings are on display in the large gallery later this week, Plattner hopes they will raise questions about how resource extraction and energy consumption affect the landscape and our relationship to it now and in the future.

“I want people to be drawn into the work and spend some time living in the landscapes and thinking about those relationships between industrial things and the natural world,” she said. “That’s what I think is beautiful about life is it’s complicated, it’s not just about good and bad. I want people to open up to that complexity. People expect it to be a message that pipelines are bad for the environment and something very singular. When people see the work they say, ‘This is more complicated than I thought.’”

Plattner said her images consist mostly of landscape elements and wildlife.

“Some include my daughter because we associate children and animals with a certain innocence,” she said. “They are not forming it, but they have to live in it.”

Plattner delved into art at a young age due to the inspiration she had all around her.

“My mom is a painter,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in art. I grew up surrounded by art.”

Plattner earned her bachelor of fine arts degree at the Washington University School of Art and masters of fine arts degree from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and Temple Rome in Italy. During her time in Italy, she attended several artists in residencies.

Upon returning to the United States, Plattner taught painting and drawing at the Eastern Oregon University and now teaches at Medicine Hat College.

Plattner’s paintings have been exhibited in galleries across North America and Mexico.

If You Wander Far Enough has been showcased in galleries in Medicine Hat and St. Albert.

Plattner said she is eager to expand her audience by bringing her work to Okotoks.

“I’m excited about showing a small town like Okotoks,” she said. “I like that it’s so close to Calgary. It’s such a beautiful place. The landscapes will be inspiring for future work.”

The public will have the opportunity to meet Plattner at a reception May 7 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.