Ocean Plastic Watercolours

Since 2015, I have been working on a series of watercolours with the aim of raising awareness of the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans.

Shades of ultramarine and cobalt blue find fragmented forms in light medium and dark tones.  Thin, incised lines run over the whole image, creating a subtle net.
Ebb, (detail)
Nunhead Art Trail, 2018
Watercolour on Japanese Paper, Lightbox, 2018

I reclaimed a discarded lightbox and began to experiment with various transparent papers I could paint on and found the thin but extremely strong Japanese papers worked well.

As a further exploration of the fragmentation within my subject, this piece of nine small re-arrangeable squares are captured by an imaginary net formed by the wall.


Recalling the still life tradition of using bottles as subject matter, I began to consider how the problem of ocean plastics is anything but a “still” life.  I am referencing some of the visual vocabulary of bottle profiles and exploring fragmentation and overlap to communicate the endless flux of shapes which have accumulated in the oceans.  Unlike the way a painter might normally contemplate a still life, it isn’t important to me to be in front of actual ocean plastics.  Rather, by continually layering shapes and colours, new compositional arrangements and possibilities present themselves and the accumulation of marks gives rise to an ambiguity which is representative of the role of responsibility for the problem. 


Highlights have traditionally been used by artists to lead the eye to an area of importance in a painting and throughout the series I wanted to experiment with the multitude of highlights which could potentially be present on the surface of the ocean in the (natural) form of waves and the (man-made) form of pollution.  Highlights on the ocean plastics take on a more worrying narrative, however, as the sun is helping to break down the plastics and release toxins.

I displayed some actual plastic bottles as part of the exhibition to show the range of highlights on them

This is a highly textured watercolour with transparent layers in shades of blue and grey
Sea Spine. watercolour on paper, 2018

The title of this painting refers to the many man-made and rigid plastic forms adrift in the oceans.  Much of the packaging and designs applied to plastic bottles recalls a repetition of waves and curves which has perhaps helped them to camouflage into our lives and the ocean environment.  Painted repeatedly, the shapes display a rigidity, however, which is elusive to something more permanent and indestructible, a structure upon which society has become reliant.