Art with a Cause

by Carolyn Edlund

Four artists share how supporting a cause through their work has make a difference in their lives, and in the world.

When inspiration stems from a desire to promote a compelling cause in an authentic way, it adds another layer of meaning to visual art. Championing a cause through their work allows these artists to make a statement. It draws interest to the concerns they address, and inspires collecting by people who value and support that cause.


Artist Christine Montague with one of her polar paintings. Read about art for a cause at

Artist Christine Montague with one of her polar bear paintings.

Christine Montague

Canadian Christine Montague has embraced becoming a “polar bear artist” by creating paintings that celebrate these majestic animals. She also brings attention to climate change, which threatens them. She built her art career by painting portraits and figurative work, and admits that she didn’t have a cause in mind at the time. Then, she painted a polar bear.

Once she created that painting, it became apparent to her that the subject resonated widely. “I was surprised at how strongly this painting engaged the public who visited my studio,” she recalled. “This inspired me to further my education about polar bears, climate change, and vanishing sea ice.”

What Montague learned was distressing. In 2011, the polar bear was listed as a Species of Special Concern under the Canadian federal Species at Risk Act. Canada is home to two thirds of the world’s polar bears, and this news featured prominently in the media. She then took a break from her usual commission work. Montague painted Polar Bear Swimming With the Northern Lights.  This work is a somewhat spiritual portrait of a polar bear afloat in what is ambiguously dark water or sky.


"Dark Water 1" oil painting by Christine Montague. Read about this artist at

“Dark Water 1” oil painting by Christine Montague.


This led to additional paintings on the subject. The artist says, “My climate change polar bear painting Dark Water 1 took a top award at a Canada-wide juried show in September 2017.  That award led to my first solo show of polar bear art opening in March, 2018.  It was very encouraging to me that the large panel of jurors not only valued my painting as a fine art work, but perceived the subject matter as pertinent, too.”

The solo show, also titled Dark Water, is a reference to the increase in the darkness of the planet’s surface due to melting polar ice. Increased dark surface decreases the sun reflected back into space. This increases the heat absorbed by the earth. More ice melts, which creates more dark water, and so the loop continues. The increase of time between ice formation and the distance between frozen areas threatens the polar bears’ survival.

Painting polar bears instead of people meant that she needed to start over to find an audience for her work. Her collectors have proven to be “thoughtful men and women who are already informed and care about polar bears, endangered wildlife, nature, and climate change,” she says. “Some work at universities and some are artists. They mention their support for such worthy organizations as Polar Bears international and World Wildlife Federation.”

Montague sells her paintings mostly online. She has found that “My collectors are always generous in their praise for all my polar bear paintings. But the one they buy is usually bought from the heart, often because of its facial expression. Although many have purchased art online before, I’ve had the honour of my work being the first original art they’ve ever bought. There is a trust to this that never fails to move me.”


Printmaker Rose Murillo in her studio. Read about this artist at

Printmaker Rose Murillo in her studio.


Rose Murillo

Animal lover and printmaker Rose Murillo is another artist dedicated to furthering a good cause. She uses her work to support and promote animal rescue and pet adoption. Murillo pairs her passion for art and design with her love of animals to promote a cause she truly believes in. Sales are made on her Pop Art Animals website. She also sells by posting rescue appeals, inspiring news and donation opportunities on her Facebook page.

“Selflessness and care for a creature other than oneself is a mark of humanity,” she says. “I adore my dogs and couldn’t imagine life without them. I want to save them all, but I can’t do it myself. I’m screen printer so it seemed natural to combine my two loves.”


Rose Murillo uses a screen print process to create her pet portraits. Read about this artist at

Rose Murillo uses a screen print process to create her pet portraits.


How have her efforts paid off? On a personal level, Murillo recent took in “Zoe” as a new family addition. She calls it a “foster fail” because she kept the dog when she realized she was unable to part with her. As for additional activities on behalf of pet rescue, she adds, “I hope that through promotion and fundraising, some change can be affected for the charities and good souls who help animals. Its really about reaching out. Those with good hearts are helping when then can by donating, fostering, adopting, and volunteering. Every single life matters.”

She has found a target audience in fellow animal lovers and those who own pets. “Pet portrait art is a great way to commemorate our loved ones in a fun and beautiful way, the way they affect our lives,” she shares. “I have hand delivered portraits that were ordered as gifts to pet owners. Their faces light up to see their dogs and cats in art.”


Artists Joslyn Beta Lawrence and Brian Kuhlmann collaborate on landscape tree portraits of disappearing species. Read their story at

Photographers Joslyn Beta Lawrence and Brian Kuhlmann collaborated on the “Song of Absolution” series focused on endangered tree species.


Brian Kuhlmann and Joslyn Beta Lawrence

Photographers Brian Kuhlmann and Joslyn Beta Lawrence found the cause that inspires their collaboration after creating landscape tree portraits for years. Lawrence explains that they “have gradually shifted our focus to environmental awareness because issues like drought and beetles have really heightened in the past few years, especially in California.”

A move to the west coast brought them face to face with the reality of indigenous trees in danger of disappearing. They began a joint project called Song of Absolution. This project documents those species in fine art photographs with a distinctive earthy and vintage look. “We feel it’s an honor to seek out and spend time with these trees that might become extinct. Hopefully we will create an archive of beautiful portraits that will remain in some way if the trees do indeed die off,” she says.


"Sequoia" from the "Songs of Absolution" series by Lawrence and Kuhlmann. Read about these artists at

“Sequoia” from the “Songs of Absolution” series by Lawrence and Kuhlmann


They have been able to make a difference by bring awareness to this threat, and provide financial support as well. They’ve recently raised money for the 1 Million Redwoods Project in Oregon and Northern California through donating prints. They are also looking to work with the Parks Project. Artists collaborate with the National Parks to make products, proceeds of which go to funding for the parks.

“What has been wonderful about this project is connecting to people about personal experiences and stories of groves of trees or special places they grew up, properties they bought because of the trees, and the kindred spirits out there who also are very connected to nature and preservation,” Lawrence says. Their plan to attract a multi-layered audience includes collectors and curators. It also appeals to botanists by creating a usable archive of images of trees under immediate threat of extinction.


The "Song of Absolution" Exhibit, a collaboration of Joslyn Beta Lawrence and Brian Kuhlmann. Read their story at

The “Song of Absolution” Exhibit, a collaboration of Joslyn Beta Lawrence and Brian Kuhlmann


“Our hope is that future generations will be able to enjoy the essence and beauty of the natural landscape of this time and that the trees themselves far outlast the archives,” the artists explain. “The response to the work since we started the deep dive into environmental issues has been profound. This affects all of us and creating beauty is a way to soften the blow and do something that gives back. We live in a time where things are being ripped apart on a daily basis. We are in some ways collectively grieving, so creating this work has been exceptionally meaningful to us and those who connect to it and the issues threatening the environment.”


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  1. Thank you so much, Carolyn, for featuring my polar bear paintings and for helping to share the cause to help these magnificent animals, and thus ourselves. Happy new Year, Everyone!

    • Christine, your paintings are not only beautiful, but so important to spread awareness of the threat to our wildlife. Thanks for what you are doing!

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