Hued with aqua green, tints of garbage and splashed with fishnet red, Lori Ann Kenney’s collection of oil paintings cast a spotlight on the overwhelming flow of plastic pollution and detritus infecting our oceans.
The Vancouver Island artist hopes her work will inspire people to deeply consider the issue, and ideally strive to make more mindful purchasing decisions. Her unique collection is on display at the Main Street Gallery in Tofino until September 30.
“People need to stop putting their money so much into plastic,” she told the Westerly News from her acreage in the Comox Valley.
“I’m trying to get to a point where I don’t buy anything new that’s plastic. It’s very hard to do. I’m not by any means perfect.”
Kenney noted that the real dilemma is that plastic is entrenched in so many every day products: from computers and packaging, down to that convenient tub of ready-made hummus one quickly grabs at the grocery store.
“I don’t know if there is a solution. I’m just trying in my own individual way to bring attention to the issue,” she said.
“On one hand it’s kind of beautiful, the patterns it makes and the colours, on the other hand it’s just this awful virus.”
According to the Ucluelet Aquarium, plastic debris kills more than 100, 000 marine creatures every year. Humans introduce 6.4 million tonnes of plastic annually, and since plastic is not biodegradable it just accumulates in the ocean.
As a fine art student at Vancouver’s Emily Carr College of Art and Design in the mid-eighties, Kenney said an environmentally conscious seed was planted early on by one of her instructors, the great David Suzuki, and by a novel she read called Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.
“I’ve always had this awareness,” she said. “And I think this is something I will be working with for most of my lifetime.”
Her process includes combing shorelines for plastic debris, washing it in bins and forming the newfound debris into what she refers to as “snarl balls”.
“It’s like a snarl of all the bits and threads and tangles of the plastic,” Kenney said.
The artist then devoted up to 60 hours to complete each work of art in the collection. To date, Kenney has completed three paintings for the plastic pollution series, as well as several marine debris installations, like the whimsically dubbed ‘Catch of the Day,’ which can be viewed and even handled at the Main Street Gallery.
Kenney has a dear relationship with Tofino.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “Of course people who live there know that. I’m so grateful to be able to show my work there. Tofino is a really good fit for me. Nature inspires most of my work.”
She recalls visiting the area as a child with her parents and camping on the beach as a teenager, where she got wondrously rained out.
One of her most recent visits to Tofino included documenting plastic detritus on Long Beach in photographs.
“It (plastic) really stands out between the organic stuff, but then it actually sometimes starts to look like the organic stuff… And then you’re thinking is that plastic or is it seaweed? The fish and the creatures in the sea might not actually be able to tell the difference,” said Kenney.