Research Stories

Caitlin Rhea’s Artwork Inspired by All Aspects of Water

Pensacola — Artist Caitlin Rhea creates sculptural objects, installations and two-dimensional artwork that relate to water issues.

“Water is an uncontrollable natural resource that governs all existing life on this planet,” Rhea said. “My concepts are inspired by the problems that arise throughout humanity’s battle over the control of water.”

Rhea, who teaches art history and two-dimensional design at Pensacola State College, spoke recently to a group at the Artel Gallery in downtown Pensacola.

Rhea’s talk was part of STEAM2017, a five-week long program of lectures, workshops and talks with artists and scientists sponsored by the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of West Florida.

STEAM2017 explores how art adds to the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math to examine issues related to the environment.

“Water filtration and flow permeate the conceptual core of my artwork,” Rhea said. “These concepts are clarified by the material I chose to work with and the processes I use. I enjoy using a wide range of media, but I gravitate toward materials that require the use of water in order to take shape.”

Rhea talked about scientific factors that influence her work, whether it be in ceramics and clay, kiln-formed glass, collage, painting, silk screen or sculpture.

“The effects of time and erosion are fascinating; they provide evidence of water’s immensely dynamic and transformative power,” Rhea said. “I am interested in the spiraling patterns that naturally occur in water flow and how similar patterns are found within a plethora of natural forms.”

Her artwork responds to a variety of water issues from water quality including filtration and purification processes to water flow in natural disasters including flooding or drought to ocean acidification and its effect on shellfish and corals.

As both an artist and an environmental activist Rhea channels her research toward the improvement of water issues, primarily through the creation of objects that signify the need for environmental remediation.

Rhea attended the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, receiving her bachelor of fine arts degree in ceramics with a minor in art history in 2006. Upon graduation, she taught a variety of arts workshops and exhibited her work primarily throughout the New England area. In 2011, Rhea received a master of fine arts degree in sculpture at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.

Before moving to Pensacola with her husband in the Fall of 2015, Rhea spent several years as an adjunct professor of art at Framingham State University in Massachusetts teaching a required course for elementary education majors called Image, Sound and Structure.

It was an interdisciplinary course aimed at integrating STEAM concepts with hands-on experiential projects to enhance students’ learning.