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Behind The Great Wall of Climate Change An American Artist Gaining Global Distinction

October 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Joseph ellis250

Great Wall’s creator, 26-year-old sculptor and fine artist Joseph Ellis.

TIANJIN, China – In almost every way – timing, media coverage, official attention, and spirited engagement  —  the stamping of the Great Climate Wall of China with a Chinese proverb this morning was a triumph for its organizers — the Global Campaign For Climate Action (GCCA), Tck tck tck, and Greenpeace. It also was another satisfying example of leveraging art and message – “with everyone’s determination, we can win anything” — for the Great Wall’s creator, 26-year-old sculptor and fine artist Joseph Ellis.

Ellis, an American raised in upstate New York, has lived and worked in Beijing for five years, during which he became the first Westerner to graduate from the Central Academy of Fine Arts’ prestigious  sculpture program. His work is colorful, creative, dynamic and fresh, just the sort of artistic message distinctive enough to generate commissions and a handsome living, attract a New York Times profile earlier this year, and earn him a TED Fellowship, one of 20 awarded from the more than 5,000 candidates who applied.

His work also attracted Greenpeace, which worked with Ellis two years ago to design and execute an hourglass presented to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton during a climate action demonstration at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. In 2009, Greenpeace funded Ellis to execute 100 life-size sculptures of children carved from ice for another climate action event.

In creating the Great Climate Wall of China (at a cost of $6,000) for the opening of the UN climate conference here, Greenpeace and other NGOs collected snapshot portraits, which Ellis assembled into a mosaic that formed a dominant image of the real Great Wall. He printed the impressionist mosaic on fabric, fitted it to supports and assembled the display in side-by-side units to build a tall, colorful barrier with a direct message. “I will act on climate, will you?”

The entire project, start to finish, was completed in six days. “It’s amazing what you can do in China in just under a week. The people here are incredible and using the resources at my disposal never cease to amaze,” said Ellis.  “When we combine our efforts the chance for change is at our grasp. Art is such a wonderful way to portray such an idea.”

Keith Schneider, a journalist and producer, is senior writer for the U.S. Climate Action Network. Reach him at


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