Northern Kentucky Artist Devan Horton Finds Inspiration in Nature — and its Destruction

"We’re looking at this other side of art dealing with climate change, and learning how to move forward through art, or inspiring innovation through a new way of looking at something.”

Apr 5, 2023 at 5:06 am
click to enlarge Northern Kentucky artist Devan Horton in front of her series "Penchant." - Photo: Provided by Devan Horton
Photo: Provided by Devan Horton
Northern Kentucky artist Devan Horton in front of her series "Penchant."

This story is featured in CityBeat's April 5 print edition.

Devan Horton finds inspiration for her oil paintings while hiking through local parks like Mount Airy, Mount Echo and Ault Park, but more recently, the Northern Kentucky artist has taken her environmental activism to new heights by experimenting with natural resources to create art.

Growing up outside of Asheville, Horton was raised in a family that always felt a special connection to nature. It was only after she moved to Northern Kentucky that she realized not everyone cherished the land in the same way.

The realization inspired her to create paintings that call attention to the various ways humans have corrupted the natural world.

“Coming from that to Cincinnati, and finding the trash everywhere and realizing that people don’t have that same respect—so that just became my passion and what I wanted to push out there into the world,” Horton says.

Horton received her BFA in painting from Northern Kentucky University and has since had her artwork featured in various local and national galleries. She has taken inspiration from swarms of insects or plants, which she represented through series titled “Swarm,” “Impinged,” “Apophenia” and “Pulchritudinous.”

“I was really interested in invasive species and this idea of the swarm, and I just really liked the idea of how all these tiny little individuals could come together and become something really fierce,” Horton says. “Like the ants. You don’t really think about the significance of a tiny little ant, but in a swarm, it could become something big.”

More recently, though, it’s the swarm of trash left by humans that inspired her series “Penchant.” The series is part of an exhibition and fundraising event called Trash Talk, in which she partnered with Paul Kroner.

She first showed the work at Studio Kroner in Cincinnati in November 2022. Recently, Trash Talk traveled to a gallery in Dayton, Ohio, to benefit Waste-Free Dayton. It concluded its showing at the Edward A. Dixon Gallery on March 25.

“The city of Dayton got really involved and the commissioner gave a speech at the opening. So it was really cool to get the people who go to art galleries, the people who will know this organization but don’t really go to art galleries, and also the city—and bringing all those pieces together,” Horton says.

Horton wasn’t sure if Trash Talk would have more life after its Cincinnati showing, but involving different organizations helped give the exhibition traction.

“A lot of commercial galleries don’t want to fill their gallery with trash,” she says. “They don’t want to get political, and it can be kind of a scary thing for galleries. But I think it’s the incorporation of the organization and offering an anecdote, like, ‘Here’s an answer.’ It makes it a lot easier to kind of get into places.”

The “Penchant” series was inspired by the variety of trash she noticed while hiking. But it was only after watching someone throw an empty pack of cigarettes out their car window, when they were just feet from a garbage can at a trash station, that she knew she wanted to express her concern through art.

click to enlarge "Wade" is 36x48 inches oil on canvas painted in 2020. - Photo: Provided by Devan Horton
Photo: Provided by Devan Horton
"Wade" is 36x48 inches oil on canvas painted in 2020.

Her favorite piece, “Wade,” a nighttime scene of trash, has a stillness to it that she hopes is a reflection of the destruction human beings have caused by leaving trash throughout nature.

With “Penchant” on the move, Horton has been trying to give up things in her life that create waste, including her artwork, making this year a time of experimentation and learning.

Deploying walnuts, poke berries and onion skins, Horton has been using nature to create waste-free art.

“I’ve been experimenting with a lot of botanical dyes and walnut inks … the walnut so far is amazing because it’s really rich. It’s a really pretty sepia color, and walnuts are everywhere, so it’s this free source that I can find to create artwork. I’ve also experimented a lot with indigo dye and, obviously, the blue is stunning, it’s gorgeous. Indigo is a fermented vat so it’s something that lasts forever,” Horton says.

Using botanicals in art is an ancient practice, so Horton has spent time researching indigenous art practices and using history to inspire her practices.

Coming up, Horton will collaborate with fellow artists Gabrielle Siekman and Jazmina Robinhawk to paint a mural in an alleyway in Covington, starting in May. Amy Milburn, who with her husband Tony has businesses surrounding the alleyway, approached the artists, asking them to create something beautiful with the space. They’re now planning an augmented reality version of a house in the 1880s, which the community will be able to walk through and view art all around them.

“There’ll be different rooms of this house that you can take pictures in … or there’s different things you can scan with your phone,” Horton says. “There’s a bunch of Easter eggs and all kinds of things that you can find in the mural.”

Horton is also curating artwork for the Green Umbrella Midwest Regional Sustainability Summit, which will take place May 12 at the Duke Energy Convention Center. It’s given her another opportunity to combine environmental activism and artwork.

“Our theme for this year is ‘imagine what’s possible,’ because we’re trying not to dwell on climate doom, which is so funny because my latest series was all trash,” Horton says. “But we’re looking at this other side of art dealing with climate change, and learning how to move forward through art, or inspiring innovation through a new way of looking at something.”

Horton attended the summit last year just to see what it’s all about. Now she’s part of the planning process and has been able to make connections with people who have the same passion as her.

“I felt like I was always searching for those people in the city, but the city is so big, and it’s hard to find those people. So the sustainability summit is a perfect place for people to meet, and if you’re trying to volunteer, there’s tons of opportunities there and it’s just a great place to become aware of all that stuff,” Horton says.

View Devan Horton’s work at and

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