About The Deluge

Artist Bill Russell shares his painting process and a creative response to Climate Change

Bill Russell
4 min readFeb 16, 2021
The Deluge, 36”x36”, acrylic on canvas, 2020

As a painter and a visual journalist, I seek to share meaningful narratives in my work. Given our Anthropocene, where human activity has influenced our climate and environment so dramatically, I feel an urgency to educate these dire messages through my art. I’ve witnessed massive and tragic forest and home fires rampage through my Northern California community. The devastation, wrought with warmer, drier conditions is in part the product of global warming.

left: Bill Russell draws in the detritus of the Valley Fire in 2015. right: Remnants of a Condo, pencil on paper, 8.5"h x 11"w, 2015

I felt shocked and saddened seeing destroyed homes and displaced people by the Valley Fire in 2015. I was motivated to produce art that captured this emotion and attempted to understand how it happened.

With fellow Urban Sketchers, I drew attendees and activists at the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco and helped tell their stories, like Molly and Bill shown in these drawings.

left: Molly Arthur is one of the 1000 Grandmothers for Future Generations Conscious Elders. right: Bill Callahan carries a sign saying “Climate Change is not a hoax.”

A warming planet means a warming ocean. Rising water temperatures can trigger coral to expel the colorful algae living in their tissue, which turns the coral sickly white. For my painting Coral Diptych, I show before and after views of this effect and wanted to bring focus to this unseen ruination.

Coral Bleaching Diptych (before and after), acrylic on panel, 12"h x 12"w each, 2019

In my new painting The Deluge, I found inspiration in two famous paintings.

Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 19"h x 25"w, 1872

Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, painted in the spring of 1873, depicts the urban-industrial landscape at the port of Le Havre, France with small rowboats in the foreground, smokestacks and steamships in the middle ground and a red sun in the far distance. Monet found beauty in the picturesque atmospheric effects in the commingling of mist, steam, fog, and smoke.

The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault, oil on canvas, 16’h x 24’w, 1818

In Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa desperate yet romanticized figures are shown adrift on turbulent seas. They are unable to see their survival on the horizon. Like these sailors, we are confronted with an unknowable beyond. Will science inform and will taking actions change our own foreboding future?

The Deluge (shown at the top of the page) builds upon my interest in human influenced ecology that brings discord to our planet, and how coastal cities are being affected by our rising seas due to global warming. The sun bears down through our depleted atmosphere, melting our polar ice caps, setting icebergs adrift, and in turn, with sea levels rising, unmooring iconic artifacts of our culture. These ancient icebergs don’t cause sea levels to rise, but hold an invaluable record of our planet’s climate history.

Here are a few details from the painting showing some of these metaphoric artifacts.

top row details: A poor fellow thrown overboard near a sea mine, plastic bottles adrift in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and more peril from the mythic Kraken Sea Monster
bottom row details: Three sirens luring sailors and ships to their doom, Noah’s Ark offers a possible method of survival and a reference to The Raft of Medusa

There are very present dangers facing our planet with climate change. Look to the artists and their work to illuminate and educate.

Find more paintings at BillRussellFineArt.com and reportage at RussellReportage.com. Artists sketching climate stories can be found at SketchingClimateStories.com

About Bill: Bill Russell is a painter, illustrator and designer based in Marin County, California. He earned his degree from Parsons School of Design in New York. He was an Adjunct Professor of Illustration at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, as well as a staff artist at the San Francisco Chronicle. He completed artist residencies at Recology and the Kala Art Institute.

Email Bill here.



Bill Russell

Bill is a web designer, illustrator, painter and visual journalist.