Beach artist Clarissa Lewis highlights dangers to pollinators from neonics used in some flowering plants

Clarissa Lewis' work highlights issues in the environment including the use of neonics in some flowering plants and the chemical's impact on pollinators such as bees. Image: Submitted.


With a paintbrush in one hand, and a passion for the environment in the other, Clarissa Lewis uses her art to highlight a critical issue facing our ecosystem; the use of neonics in flowering plants.

Lewis, an artist with a deep passion for the environment, initially lived in Scarborough before relocating to the Beach. For the past 20 years, she has called the Beach home and lives in the Woodbine Avenue and Queen Street East area.

Before embarking on her artistic career, Lewis followed her parents’ wishes and pursued a conventional education studying psychology. The decision was also influenced by the limited opportunities for girls to engage in creative studies at the time.

“My parents were immigrants, so education always came first. Pursuing art was way down the list because it doesn’t feed you, so I went to university the only way that I could in those days,” said Lewis.

Years later, after starting her own family, Lewis returned to school to follow her true passion for the arts. She spoke about the inspiration that motivated her to follow her dream.

“My imagination was my best friend when things were a little bit difficult in my social environment, so when things got kind of hard for me I retreated into a world of imagination,” she said.

As an artist, her artwork aims to showcase environmental issues, such as neonics, that affect pollinators and encourage people to use neonic-free products.

Neonics, short for neonicotinoids, are a class of pesticides chemically related to nicotine. Growers use them to protect their plants from insects. The pesticide absorbs an entire plant, contaminating it and the nectar and pollen vital to native bees, honey bees, and other pollinators.

“When I came across neonics as one of the very dangerous chemicals in the garden, I started to make change in my own garden. I changed my garden to all flowering plants we found that were neonic-free,” she said.

Plants and flowers grown without neonics are regarded as more beneficial and have a more positive impact on the environment, according to Lewis.

“When people are growing flowering plants in their own gardens without these chemicals it actually makes a very big difference,” she said.

Given the complexity of the environmental issues she is passionate about, she mentioned that she strives to weave these themes into her art with a nuanced and subtle approach. By doing so, she aims to raise awareness in a way that encourages viewers to engage thoughtfully and reflect on the deeper message behind her work.

“I try to attract people’s attention gently through their curiosity and then whatever issue I am trying to talk about is integrated deeper into the artwork if they are willing to think about it a little bit,” said Lewis.

The most recent art piece she made which highlights the issue of neonics and its effects on pollinators, was inspired by a book she came across called ‘What a Bee Knows’ that examined the inner world of bees. She mentioned that the book taught her a lot, and paired with her love of bees and other pollinators wanted to illustrate the harms against them.

All of her art pieces can be viewed in a little library-inspired area by the sidewalk of her home or by visiting her Instagram page.  

Clarissa Lewis’ by-the-sidewalk gallery. Photo: Submitted.

Her main message and goal is for people to think more deeply about certain issues in our environment that may seem small.

“I want people to notice the small things, the things that take up more space than they physically occupy,” said Lewis.

As a positive turn for bees and pollinators, a survey by Friends of the Earth Canada has unveiled a significant triumph: Canada’s major retailers, including Home Depot, Lowe’s and Canadian Tire have reported that they have nearly eliminated the sale of neonicotinoid-contaminated flowering plants.

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