"My creative and professional voice is so completely stitched to and woven around this place that my process of understanding California has become the process of understanding myself. I’m happily swallowed and so wholly taken by its biography and its habitat diversity that my ability to take the measure of what is beautiful in this world, my aesthetic sense of judgment, is based on my appreciation of California’s natural world.” California Field Atlas, by Obi Kaufmann
Obi Kaufmann isn't your typical artist or naturalist—he's a bit of both and a whole lot more. The son of two scientists, he grew up in the wild spaces fringing the San Francisco Bay, logging countless hours in California’s wilderness. Based in Oakland, the poet/painter spends his days backpacking through the backcountry—and cataloging his findings through various creative mediums.
For Kaufmann, understanding ecology is more than just sifting through dense pieces of scientific data. It’s an art form, a story waiting to be told, a never-ending process of learning and reflecting.
In the hands of Obi Kaufmann, the canvas of nature comes alive. His work captures the beauty of California’s diverse natural landscapes but also blurs the boundaries between science and art, deepening both our appreciation and understanding of the world around us.
Combining vibrant colors with poetic prose and introspection, his creations are a celebration of the intricacies of the world’s ecosystems and a call to action for decisive conservation. From hand-drawn maps, intricate paintings of untouched landscapes, hastily-scrawled notes, and creative visualizations of his field observations and data, Kaufmann’s artistry explores the past, present, and future of California’s resource landscape. His best-selling field atlases are an ode to his stature as a renaissance man of the wild, blending science and art to illustrate California’s deeply complex natural ecosystems.
In his published works, Kaufmann employs language in deft brushstrokes, painting landscapes and ecological narratives with a poignant precision that resonates with both poets and scientists. His prose informs and inspires, inviting readers to join him on his lifelong journey of natural discovery and adventure.
Kaufmann’s decades of exploring California’s natural spaces informed his first published work, The California Field Atlas. Blending art and scientific observation to holistically illustrate the ecological patchwork of his home state, Kaufmann superseded both genre and medium to create the ultimate naturalist narrative. In his more recent books, The State of Water and The Forests of California, Kaufmann follows his interdisciplinary foray deeper into the wilderness, exploring themes of resilience, biodiversity, and environmental ethics as he addresses the history of changes to California’s landscapes and what it means for the future of humankind.
Kaufmann’s ability to bridge the gap between science and art is a skill he’s spent his lifetime honing. His training as a biologist brings a scientific rigor to his observations, infusing his art with an authenticity and accuracy that extends far beyond aesthetic appeal. Kaufmann's work is a testament to the interconnectedness of disciplines, demonstrating that an understanding of nature can be enhanced through a holistic approach that embraces both the analytical and the creative.
He employs a technique he calls Ecological Philosophy—a blend of literature, poetry, physical science, history, and Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge—to paint a portrait of his California backyard through the years. Blending philosophical concepts like Consilience (the marriage of science and art), Aesthetics (transmitting meaning through media) and Complexity, Kaufmann doesn’t suffer from lack of inspiration or topics to cover. Each subsequent field atlas analyzes and portrays various elements of the quilt of ecosystems of the California backcountry, through a buffet of detailed artistry and storytelling.
Kaufmann is also an outspoken advocate for conservation. Through his art and writing, he raises awareness about the fragility of ecosystems, the impact of climate change, and the urgent need for greater environmental protections.
Kaufmann's passion for the environment is palpable, and he uses his platform to inspire others to appreciate and protect the planet. His schedule often includes speaking engagements and collaborations with conservation groups like the Mojave Desert Land Trust, the Mono Lake Committee, the California Native Plant Society, and the California Wilderness Coalition, as well as natural sciences departments at many of the state’s leading research universities. He’s also on the Board of Directors of the California Wilderness Federation and has taken on writing and illustration assignments for notable publications and environmental initiatives, most notably the National Wildlife Federation.
As we navigate an era marked by environmental challenges of historical proportions, Kaufmann’s work takes on a new significance. He’s not just an artist capturing the beauty of nature or a scientist observing the functions of the wild—he’s a guide, leading his audience to deeper levels of understanding of the interconnected web of life that sustains us all. In a world that can so easily feel disconnected from the natural realm, Kaufmann’s art and words offer a timely reminder of the importance of preserving and cherishing the planet we call home.
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