Artist Karen Hackenberg’s lighthearted yet impactful eco-conscious paintings highlight the overwhelming problem of ocean detritus. Learn more about her by visiting her website.
In my ongoing painting series, I present a darkly humorous taxonomy of imaginary post-consumer sea life of the future. Working traditionally with oil and gouache, I craft beautiful images of conventionally ugly beach flotsam set amidst an otherwise pristine seascape, and aim to create a provocative visual juxtaposition of form and idea.
My paintings are inspired by the incongruity of the man-made detritus I find washed up on the shores below my studio in Washington State—plastic shards and tattered bags, mismatched running shoes, foggy plastic water bottles, throwaway lighters, frayed lengths of nylon rope, and spent shotgun shells, to name but a few.
I collect this local flotsam as it bobs in on the waves from far and near, and with my ear to the sand for a close view, I pose and photograph it on the beach where it strands. The resulting seascape compositions depict the beach trash as monolithic, thereby providing a visual metaphor for the overwhelming magnitude of the issue of marine debris.
For example, the large-scale oil painting, Have an Ice Day, depicts a tattered plastic party ice bag sporting the cartoonish graphic of a polar bear floating in limbo over the sea, jauntily telling us to have a nice day. The party ice in this bag has long since vanished, just as the ice cubes illustrated on the bag are melting out from under the sunglass-clad ice-bear as he poignantly waves goodbye; a parting metaphor for mass extinction in the warming and disappearing habitats of the globe.
As one of twenty-four Northwest artists, my work was chosen for inclusion in the 2016 Northwest Art Now exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum, which highlighted the intersection of identity, social justice, and the environment.
For my 2015 solo show, Watershed at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, I exhibited my beach trash paintings along with the flotsam that inspired them. My recent group exhibitions include, Neo Naturalists at the Museum of Northwest Art, Stilleven: Contemporary Still Life at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, and Beneath the Surface: Rediscovering a World Worth Conserving at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC.
My work has traveled for three years in the museum exhibition, Environmental Impact, curated by David J. Wagner, and will be included in the encore edition of this traveling exhibition premiering in 2019.
The green sensibility of my work has earned a place in numerous private and permanent public collections including the Portland Art Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, the Washington State Public Art Collection, the New York State Museum, the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, and the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.
My essay, The Unshakeable Habit of Noticing, and my paintings about art and environment are currently featured on the MAHB (The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere) blog at Stanford University.
A Washington State, Artist Trust, GAP grant helped me to turn my Watershed painting series into a limited edition artist book, designed by Marquand Editions in Seattle, WA, and handmade at Paper Hammer in Tieton, WA.