Jelly Green uses art sales to protect Brazilian rainforest

By Richard Haugh
BBC News

Image source, Nick Ilott
Image caption,
Jelly Green said it was "incredibly heartbreaking" to witness deforestation first hand

A British artist who saw the "devastating" effects of deforestation has used money from her paintings to help protect the Brazilian rainforest.

Jelly Green, 27, spent two months in South America amid the "lush" habitat.

But after seeing vast expanses of cleared land, she began painting the destruction from her imagination.

Miss Green said donating £9,000 to buy land near Rio de Janeiro was "tiny in the grand scale of things, but it's what I could do".

Image source, Jelly Green
Image caption,
Miss Green said she wanted to "document the devastation" going on in the rainforest

The Ipswich-born artist, a pupil of Maggi Hambling, developed a fascination with rainforests after moving to Australia as a child.

Later, she returned to Suffolk, but found living in London and Brighton "uninspiring" as a painter.

Seeking a change, she searched the internet for artist residencies that would get her back in touch with nature.

That rural idyll ended up being a treehouse with no electricity, perched high above rainforest in central Brazil. The nearest village was 11 miles (18km) away.

Image source, Jelly Green
Image caption,
The artist has so far made two trips to Brazil to paint the rainforests

"There's no wifi, no distractions, no-one to talk to," she said. "There was a bucket, that's it."

The canopy of the rainforest provided the perfect inspiration to paint watercolour images of the wide range of flora and fauna.

"I was overwhelmed by the mystery and beauty of the place," she said.

It presented its challenges: one brush with a caterpillar resulted in her being rushed to hospital as her veins turned black.

Image source, Jelly Green
Image caption,
Jelly Green spent two months painting "solidly" during her first trip to Brazil

But it was seeing the aftermath of deforestation in Brazil, and on visits to Sri Lanka and New Zealand, which had a lasting impact on Miss Green.

"I remember driving through these palm plantations and it would take literally seven hours to get through them.

"I have no idea how many hundreds of kilometres that is, but it's terrifying and very real."

In Borneo she saw wild orangutan, monkeys, elephants and pythons "bursting out on the banks".

"I naively thought it was fantastic," she said, "until the local guide explained this was only due to the encroaching palm plantations forcing them to the water's edge".

"There was literally nowhere else for them to go."

Image source, Jelly Green
Image caption,
Miss Green said she was surprised by the popularity of her paintings showing the devastation
Image source, Jelly Green
Image caption,
All of the paintings from her show at Oxo in London were sold

Miss Green said she became "obsessed" with the issue.

"I've never actually seen a forest fire," she said. "But I started to focus on the deforestation. It's a lot bleaker than what I set out to do, but you can't get away from it."

"To know now how fragile and threatened it is, is deeply alarming and very frightening."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Many of the fires in the Amazon, and elsewhere, are to clear land for agriculture

The land bought by the proceeds from her sold-out exhibition in London will be looked after by REGUA, a Brazilian NGO [non-governmental organisation], which said in the past 20 years it had planted more than 500,000 trees.

It said Miss Green's "generous" donation had bought farmland which would now be preserved as rainforest.

"I hope the plot remains untouched and unharmed, and that it can continue to provide a home for the wildlife and trees that live within it," Miss Green said.

Image source, REGUA
Image caption,
REGUA aims to conserve the upper Guapiaçu watershed, near Rio de Janeiro
Image source, Nick Ilott
Image caption,
Artist Maggi Hambling has taught Jelly Green since she was a teenager

Miss Green is back in Suffolk, and continues to paint, but plans to travel again soon to "document the devastation that's going on".

"I feel like I should go spend time in areas that have been burnt," she said.

"I've always been passionate about the environment and this is the little thing I can do.

"The world's governments need to deal with this now. This is a global not a local issue."