Australian environmental artist John Dahlsen’s work reflects his deep concern for the environment and the impact of human activities on the planet. One of the defining characteristics of Dahlsen’s art is his use of ocean debris, particularly plastic waste, as a primary medium that serves as a powerful commentary on the urgent issue of plastic pollution. The vivid colors and varied textures of the plastic objects he incorporates into his artworks serve as a visual reminder of the pervasive nature of plastic pollution in our environment.
Dahlsen at work.
What about the ocean speaks to you as an artist?
This environmental art journey began in the late 1990s, when I made a deliberate shift in my artistic approach – moving away from traditional art forms to incorporate found objects and discarded materials. This pivotal moment marked the birth of this distinctive style and emergence as an environmental artist. A defining characteristic of this art is the use of ocean litter, particularly plastic waste, as a primary medium. I scour beaches, collecting discarded items such as plastic bottles and fragments, transforming them into captivating installations, sculptures, and assemblages. Through this process, I breathe new life and purpose into overlooked materials, creating thought-provoking artworks.
By using plastic waste as a medium, I present a powerful commentary on the urgent issue of plastic pollution. The vibrant colors and varied textures serve as a visual reminder of the pervasive nature of this environmental challenge, compelling viewers to examine their own consumption habits and consider the consequences of their actions. In addition to plastic waste, I incorporate other found materials, including driftwood sourced from coastal environments, further highlighting my connection to nature and the importance of preserving delicate ecosystems.
Dahlsen, John. 2020, "Self Portrait With Micro Plastics".
What is your view on the role of art in activism and how do you aim to create impact through your work?
This art serves as a call to action, inspiring viewers to take responsibility for their environmental footprint and consider the long-term consequences of their choices. Through this work, I show that art can be a powerful tool for environmental advocacy, sparking conversations and inspiring change. This art also showcases the potential for creative solutions to environmental challenges, demonstrating that discarded materials can find new life and purpose beyond their initial use.Dahlsen, John. "Gyre".
Can you share a particular project or campaign that you are most proud of or one currently underway that our audience might be able to support?
The launch of the GPGP art project will unveil 888 artworks presented as 10 cm x 10 cm printed aluminum tiles. The tiles converge to form a stunning representation of a current satellite image shape of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The 888 red and yellow tiles created by myself are selected works from my 45-year career since graduating from art school at the VCA and represent the most densely polluted central area of the Garbage Patch.
In addition to the visual display, the launch exhibition will incorporate educational components designed to deepen understanding of aesthetics and the environmental issues associated with the Garbage Patch. Informational panels, multimedia presentations, and expert-led discussions will provide insights into the scientific aspects of plastic pollution, its impact on marine life, and potential solutions.
Dalhsen, John. 2018, "Beach".
What is the one takeaway message you would like audiences to leave with after viewing your work?
Beyond their aesthetic appeal, these artworks convey deeper ecological and environmental messages. Each piece tells a story, encouraging viewers to contemplate the transient nature of materials and the impact of consumer culture. By repurposing discarded items and presenting them in an artistic context, I challenge societal notions of beauty and value, urging a reconsideration of our throwaway culture.Dalhsen, John. 2019, "Interior".