Artist Tess Felix ‘paints’ stunning portraits of family, friends, and ocean heroes using plastic litter combed from the beach. She starts by taking a photograph of her subject, then puts together a ‘palette’ of washed and sorted multicolored plastic, working off the photograph to assemble her piece. Roaming the coast, Felix looks for interesting plastic shards and small objects like toys and containers. In her work, she wants to tell a story not only about the person, but also of the materials themselves and invite the viewer to consider how plastic has insinuated itself into our daily lives:
“These ocean plastics convey a long story of their journey starting with extraction of oil from the ground. Plastic is everywhere in our lives, in fact we touch it more than we touch our loved ones—it’s just a brute fact that plastic is a ‘thing' in the world.”
She first started creating art with plastic debris after a large storm in 2010 left the beach so littered she could not see the sand beneath it, plastic that washed ashore from the Delta and the Bay. Despite her dismay, her message is ultimately a hopeful one:
“If I’m lucky, what I do in my work is show that the human spirit and beauty still has the power to rise above the ugly. To arrange the ugly into a beautiful thing is a metaphor for demonstrating that we have the power to overcome the very thing that threatens us.”
A Bay Area native, Tess Felix has lived along the same stretch of coastline for most of her life and has watched its slow transformation. In her youth Felix would gather sea glass and shells. Today she primarily sees brightly colored ocean plastic debris with the sea shells and sea glass mixed in.
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