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Using Plastic Debris to Create Classical Portraits

I create portraits from plastic debris and strive to show a human soul. These figures are a playful response to a serious issue: the perilous state of the ocean and our marine life. While I admire activists and leaders who address the problem, my own voice is that of an artist. The contrast between the humanity of the figures and the plastic materials they are made of suggests that we are part of and responsible for the problem we have created.

I use waste materials, primarily plastic debris, that wash up on the beach to create mosaic portraits of people. Often these items are curious remnants of our daily life, like parts of cell phones, discarded plugs, dental picks, bottle caps, fishing gear, old batteries, hairbrushes, and the surprisingly frequent plastic tubes and nets from oyster farming.

My larger works include thousands of such pieces of plastic marine debris, layered and pasted to the canvas with silicon glue. The process takes a long time, sometimes months. I never paint any of the plastic bits and pieces I find, but leave them in their “natural” state. I created one of my early works, “An Ocean In Crisis,” after a large Winter storm left so much plastic debris on the beach that it was like a colored carpet at my feet.

A recent series, “Ocean Eco Heroes,” celebrates people who are champions of the environment. Even though they are encased in beach trash, a serious purpose still shines through their eyes. Other works include portraits of family and friends, and also famous people, like Lucian Freud, Buster Keaton, and the surfer Kelly Slater. One of my largest assemblages, “The Sweetness of First Nights,” is a portrait of a teenager in love. It is composed from the soles of rubber thongs, shotgun shell casings, toys, lids, vampire teeth, knives and forks and spoons.

My intention is to explore serious issues with imagination and humor, and to spark curiosity, conversation, and awareness in the viewer.