I first met Hawaiian artist Shannon McCarthy at an LGBT meeting at a conference in Honolulu in 2013. Over 25 years my junior, she offered to take me (and my giant rented surfboard) to her favorite surf spot and quickly won me over with her quirky sense of humor and artist/activist mentality. Last month, while I was visiting the islands, she again picked me up at my Waikiki hotel in her SUV. This time we could barely fit my rental board in the back — it was stuffed with the mosaics she was delivering to her commission with the Outrigger Reef Resort.
Here is Shannon’s story:
Shannon was born and raised in Northern California’s East Bay and graduated from the Academy of Art in San Francisco with a BFA in sculpture. She worked with ceramics, bronze casting, acrylic/oil painting before moving to Oahu in 2011. She says that the NorCal influence of ocean, redwoods and the abundance of intriguing people with wild ideas—has greatly shaped her artistic and environmentalist paths today.
“While running on the eastern shores when I first got to Oahu, I noticed massive amounts of tiny plastic particles on the tide lines. I was horrified that in the midst of this pristine and mind-blowing beauty there was nightmarish pollution.
I wanted to do something about the problem. I started by making clay and sand castles covered in the plastic. Soon thereafter I hooked up with a (then new) grass roots organization called Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii. We are a small group of surfers and friends who want to take action and protect our beloved ocean from filling up with plastic. We started hosting beach clean-ups, and offered plastic re-use and reduction suggestions.
Finally my commitment to protecting the ocean evolved into making these mosaics. Much of the plastic I collect are the size of tiles that can be arranged together. Many unidentifiable plastics that photodegrade (not biodegrade), remain plastic forever, even microscopically, when broken down. They are blown here from the gyres by the trades and pushed by currents, our island chain acts like a rake and collects the bits.
Thinking of this makes me heartsick. So, instead of getting depressed about it I find it is much easier be active in the solution by making art and helping communicate the problem to people through the art. We live in a plastic age, and focusing on redesign of the present, rearranging the rubbish into something cohesive and beautiful, is meant to revive the love of our home (planet Earth).
Our devastating plastic mess is in every area of the wild massive poetry of our oceans, but I believe that humans still have a chance to save ourselves and the other beings we are harming. I fear that not only will future generations lack clean air, soil, or water—but I worry they might not get to experience the incredible power of pure nature. Or what it feels like to ride a clean wave”
Shannon works hard creating art as a solution to the plastic waste problem.
What can the rest of us do?
Start here: Donate to Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.
More info about making a personal commitment: 10 ways to reduce plastic pollution
Interested in Shannon’s art? Find out more HERE.