Venice photographer J.J. L’Heureux joins G2 Gallery for an Earth Day art celebration to benefit endangered species

By Michael Aushenker

J.J. L’Heureux took this close-up of an endangered yellow-eyed penguin in February on Enderby Island, between New Zealand and Antarctica

J.J. L’Heureux took this close-up of an endangered yellow-eyed penguin in February on Enderby Island, between New Zealand and Antarctica

Ten years ago, 60% of the Antarctic’s yellow-eyed penguins had contracted a disease that many thought would render the birds extinct. The species remains endangered but manages to persist, and Venice photographer J.J. L’Heureux is displaying artistic proof at G2 Gallery.

The Venice art gallery, founded in support of ecological awareness and causes, launches its Eco Runway for Earth Day group exhibit on Tuesday, featuring work by L’Heureux and 37 other artists.

In addition to her close-up of a yellow-eyed penguin, L’Heureux is also showing images of a Galapagos land iguana and the grey-headed albatross, other animals that were once pushed to the brink.

“They’ve been successfully saved [in recent years],” L’Heureux, who in February visited Cape Adare on her 13th annual trip to Antarctica, said of the rare animals she has captured on film.

Fifteen years ago, L’Heureux was living in San Francisco when the 1989 Oakland earthquake struck.

“I lost my studio. I was red-tagged,” she said.

With no particular place to go, she headed to Venice to attend a friend’s birthday party.

“I came down here and I never left!” she said.

Aside from some elephant seals during mating season, which L’Heureux said one does not want to get in-between, all of her run-ins with the native animals of the Antarctic have been wonderfully non-eventful.

“I’ve had albatross walk up and brush my cheek. When I’m sitting down, they’re taller than I am,” she said. “Most of the animals don’t have predators on the ice. If you’re curious, you’ll be surrounded by all kinds of animals.”

After years of visiting the desolate destination, L’Heureux, who is also an accomplished painter and recently displayed work at Bergamot Station, still harbors in her voice an enthusiasm for her trips.

“It changes my art every year in that I went down originally as a painter to see white on white,” she said. “I wanted to do color field paintings and really look at the color white.”

She chalks up her love for Antarctica to discovering something new each time — this year in Cape Adare, elusive baby Adelie penguins.

“I finally saw an Adelie chick!” she said of this year’s trip. “They’re only a chick for like two weeks! If you blink and come back one or two weeks later, you’re in a very different Antarctica.”

L’Heureux said the greatest hazard of heading to Antarctica for her photography is the inclement weather’s affect on her equipment.

“At 38 below, regardless, it’s not going to work so well,” she said.

That includes smartphones.

However, “I’ve never taken a picture with an iPhone,” she said.

The opening reception for “Eco Runway for Earth Day” takes place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at G2 Gallery, 1503 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. A $10 admission donation benefits the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Call (310) 452-2842 or visit theg2gallery.com.

michael(at)argonautnews.com

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