Cooper Skinner

Oct 04, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories

To hear Ocean Undertones, click here.


Cooper Skinner’s design work has many influences – from music and nature to nonfigurative and common world objects. He tries to combine these elements to create pieces with a unique sense of space and time. Cooper’s work tells stories and is a dance between the senses. He believes that when people stop and just listen, something special has been produced.

Cooper is a recent graduate of the Savannah School of Art and Design with a BFA in sound design.  He grew up in Alaska and Montana.

Autumnal 2010, The Bitter End Read more

Robert Mickelsen

Oct 04, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories


Born in 1951 in Fort Belvoir, Virginia and raised in Honolulu , Hawaii , Robert’s formal education ended after one year of college. He apprenticed with a professional lampworker for two years in the mid-seventies and then sold his own designs at outdoor craft fairs for ten years. In 1987 he took a class from Paul Stankard that opened his eyes to the possibilities of his medium. In 1989, he stopped doing craft shows and began marketing his work exclusively through galleries. Since then, his career has taken off. He shows his work in some of the finest galleries in the country and participates in prominent exhibitions each year. His work is exhibited in many prominent collections including the Renwick Gallery of American Crafts at the Smithsonian Institution, the Corning Museum of Glass, The Toledo Museum of Art, The Carnegie Museum of Art, The Mint Museum, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Museum of American Glass at Wheaton Village , and the Pilchuck Glass School .

He has taught extensively at the major glass schools including the Pilchuck Glass School Penland School of Crafts, The Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass, and The Eugene Glass School. He has filmed and produced two videos on his flameworking process, and he has designed and maintains an elaborate web page dedicated to his own work and the galleries that represent him ( He has published numerous technical and historical articles on flameworked glass. He served for six years on the board of directors of the Glass Art Society and was their treasurer and vice-president.

Autumnal 2010, Coastal Zone Read more

Penny Harter

Oct 04, 2010 3 Comments by Sea Stories

Facing the Sea

Sometimes there are faces in the sea—
shimmering faces with foam eyes, whose lips
dissolve as they try to kiss the shore before
the tide can suck them back into the deep.

A fearless child, I used to front the waves,
walking out to where they broke against
my chest, staring down through churning
sand and salt, certain that a sea-pale
mermaid’s face would rise to greet my own.

How many oceans feed these fantasies
of finding once again what we have lost?
When will your dear face come back,
your gray beard cresting on a wave
that breaks against my heart?

copyright © 2010 Penny Harter, in Recycling Starlight. Mountains and Rivers Press, Eugene, Oregon.

I Swim a Sea That Has No Shore or Bottom
*********************after Petrarch

I swim a sea that has no shore or bottom.
I drift through space around a dying star.
Awake, I stare into a blue tomorrow.
Asleep, I try to reach that place you are.

Each night I find myself in rougher waters.
With every stroke I reach for your dear hand.
The sea-birds call, their cries a faint reminder
of houses we once built upon the sand.

The memories I float on this salt ocean
are nothing more than bubbles in the foam.
And I am swimming in an ancient riddle,
still hoping I can dream myself back home.

I swim a sea that rocks me in its thunder,
yet buoys me so that I can’t go under.

copyright © 2010 Penny Harter, in Recycling Starlight. Mountains and Rivers Press, Eugene, Oregon.


Penny Harter lives in the South Jersey shore area, about a half-hour inland from Ocean City. Her husband died in October of 2008, and these poems from her chapbook, Recycling Starlight, reflect some of her journey through grief. Other recent books and chapbooks include The Night Marsh (2008), Along River Road (2005), and Buried in the Sky (2002). With her late husband, William J. Higginson, she co-authored The Haiku Handbook (25th Anniversary Edition, 2010), and her children’s illustrated alphabestiary, The Beastie Book, came out in December, 2009. Her work appears in many print and on-line journals and anthologies, and she has received three poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the William O. Douglas Nature Writing Award. She’s excited to have been invited to read at the 2010 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, and she recently received a fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) for a residency during January, 2011. To learn more about her, please visit her web site and her blog:;

More information about Penny’s most recent chapbook, Recycling Starlight, is available here.

Autumnal 2010, Littoral Currents Read more

Tony Wu

Oct 04, 2010 1 Comment by Sea Stories

As you can tell from the video, it was a fantastic trip…great participants, the perfect venue, and lots of amazing marine life!

Diving through the night was an experiment of sorts…one that fortunately worked out really well. To cut to the chase, the night life in Lembeh was totally fascinating.

Some of the same animals we encountered in normal daylight hours were out and about at night as well, but for the most part, there were different critters and/ or activities.

Not a big surprise, but there were many more crustaceans and cephalopods around in the wee hours than in the day, and even critters we came across during normal hours seemed to be more active at night (like flounders, octopuses, frogfish, etc.)

We managed to see a bit of courtship and mating activity as well, though some of it (like the porcupine pufferfish mating I photographed) took place after everyone else left.

The biggest surprise for me was how easy and pleasant it was to dive on a night schedule.

I expected to be cold most of the time (I even brought along a wool cap, sweater and sweat pants which I never used), but actually, the water temperature and conditions were great through the night.

In addition, waking up mid- to late-morning and jumping into the water for a first dive at 17:30 or so proved to be a very civilized schedule. With much of the morning and afternoon free to chill out, sort through photos, charge batteries, check gear, etc., the night schedule was…well…easy.

Having so much time before the first dive also meant I never went in without charged batteries, lens cap still attached, CF card missing…or any of the other common flub-ups that happen when you’re in a rush or don’t have sufficient time to double-check gear before hitting the water.

I hesitate to speak for everyone on the trip, but I think we all felt this way, and several people asked to be kept informed if there’s another night trip, because they liked this one so much!

I am, in fact, running another night trip later this year in Ambon together with Eric Cheng and Wetpixel.

It’s basically the same idea…diving mostly at night…concentrating on the dive sites collectively referred to as the Twilight Zone. It’s been difficult to dive these prolific sites at night for many years now, but with the new Maluku Divers resort situated close by, we’ll have easy access to Ambon’s critter central.

I have no doubt that it’s going to be an awesome adventure. The underwater topography is similar to, but different from, that of Lembeh, and though there’s certainly an overlap in the resident critter life, Ambon’s marine community is unique…which means lots of new animals and behaviours to see and enjoy.

If you’re interested in checking out Ambon’s night life in November I set out additional details toward the bottom of this post. Otherwise, take a look at the trip description on Wetpixel. Click here for an online presentation about Ambon that I put together previously.

Correction: Just received updated information that the unfortunate frogfish is a Histrio histrio, aka sargassum frogfish, which is unusual, since it’s sitting on the bottom with no sargassum seaweed around. Apparently, there is an article being written now about this, based on observations from the Virgin Island

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Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives


Tony Wu travels, photographs, videos and creates stories full-time, spending most of his time in the Asia-Pacific and Pacific regions. He does his best to post thoughts, images and observations from travels on his site,, so please bookmark this site, or better yet, follow using RSS.

Tony also organizes trips and adventures, usually with an emphasis on underwater photography, and tends to prefer visiting destinations that are remote, unique and off the beaten path.

If you’d like to consider joining him on one of the excursions, here is a list of some of upcoming trips, which Tony tries (though inevitably fails) to keep updated and current.

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Autumnal 2010, The Bitter End Read more

Melissa Stang

Oct 04, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories

For more on our featured Sea Stories Autumnal 2010 Artist, click here.

Autumnal 2010 Read more

Jim Fuess

Oct 04, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories

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Autumnal 2010 Read more

Nick Jans

Oct 04, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories


“We’ve got whales,” said Mark Kelley, as we rounded the point, my little cabin cruiser Chance cutting through the slick, glass-green swell. “Two there, four or five more across the way, off to the left, behind us…holy mackerel, look at ‘em. They’re everywhere.” As I throttled down, he dug in his camera pack. Sherrie dialed in her binoculars, and our dogs—Gus, the retired Seeing Eye Lab and Chase, the Blue Heeler, tested the air, nostrils quivering at the strange, wild scent.

It was one of those early September days that come between the rains in Southeast Alaska, when the world seems to hold its breath. Light, sometimes silver, sometimes golden, spilled through rafted clouds, casting sea and land in spot-lit, shifting patterns. And before us, the mountain-rimmed, tide-swept bay, several miles long and two wide at the mouth,  was so full of humpback whales—dozens of them blowing, rolling and diving in their unhurried, timeless rhythms—that I imagined the water bulging upward, displaced by the sheer volume of their bodies. Even though I was on full alert and at minimum planing speed headed in, I had to heel over hard once to avoid an equally startled whale who’d surfaced off our bow. As Mark had said, they were everywhere.

At the end of each summer—the last two weeks of August and into mid-September—most of the thousand or so humpbacks in Southeast gather at such places, scattered along the coast. Is it concentrated food that brings them? Is it a social occasion? Or is each area a staging point from which to launch their annual southward migration? While we can only guess at their collective purpose, the loose, milling congregations mark the shifting of the seasons, regular enough to circle on the calendar. By October most of the whales will be gone, off on their 3,000-mile journey across the North Pacific to their wintering and breeding grounds off Hawaii. Others will aim near Mexico and Japan, and a few toward Costa Rica. Moving at an average pace of five miles an hour, pausing only for brief rests, some will make the trip in as little as five weeks. Through the winter, they’ll eat little or nothing for several months, preoccupied with breeding the following season’s calves, or giving birth to and nurturing this year’s. Their fast won’t end until they return to Alaska waters in May. To put that metabolic feat into perspective, imagine grizzlies that, instead of entering their dens, migrated across a continent and back, breeding along the way–all without eating. Only the whale’s 25 to 35-ton bulk, along with its prodigious ability to feed and store energy, allows for such excess.

Despite the huge distances involved, humpbacks are creatures of habit, retracing routes learned from their mothers and imprinted on memory. How they navigate the trackless expanse of the sea is a mystery; theories include navigation by the stars or sensing the magnetic field of the earth itself through iron deposits in their brains’ frontal lobes. Perhaps they can sense currents and wave patterns, smell their way, or use land forms as guides when they rise above the surface to glimpse our world through grapefruit-sized eyes. The whales, as usual, keep their own counsel, the details of their lives hidden by the chill, swirling darkness through which they move, a world as foreign to us as the chasms between stars. We may lower hydrophones to record their complex vocalizations, make shallow, brief dives among them, and pore over the massive, blubber-sheathed bulk of dead specimens; but most of our observations are limited to the scant moments when these mammals—sixth-largest and most acrobatic among the large whales—brush against the atmosphere that we call home. It’s here that we meet, linked by our shared dependency on straining oxygen from the air.

Imagine, though, a pair of lungs large enough when inflated to fill my 21-foot boat stem to stern, channeled through twin nostrils each the diameter of a fist, and the currents of cold air surging to fill the tremendous vacuum, held long minutes through a dive (five or eight, occasionally much longer), then exhaled in a vaporous, pluming burst. Of course I’d heard the sound of that release a thousand times over the whale-rich waters of Southeast; even under normal conditions, it can carry a mile or more. But there, in the confines of that bay, in the glowing stillness of that afternoon, the flat sea and close-leaning mountains forming a sounding-board, the explosive sigh of so many whales breathing—Huuuunnnhh….Aaaaahhhhh…Ooohaaaa—vibrated in the air, overlapping like strange breaking waves. One particular whale’s exhalation resembled a ship’s foghorn–an incredible, Jurassic trumpeting that seemed to reverberate from everywhere. And, for the sheer size and numbers of great beasts around us, the largest old females over 60 thousand pounds each, their calves the equivalent of a paltry elephant or two, we might as well have been floating on some ancient, monster-filled sea.

One thing was clear;  whatever other reasons the whales had to congregate at this spot, just now they were preoccupied with the main business of the season: inhaling the endless buffet in the nutrient-laden currents of the Inside Passage. While in Alaska waters, humpbacks forage up to 20 hours a day, gulping great maws of seawater and straining out hundreds of pounds of herring, candlefish, or shrimp-like krill through the rows of baleen that line their toothless jaws. They pause only to bask and nap on the surface for a few minutes at a time. On this particular day, feed was so dense that the depth finder, bouncing its sonar pulse toward the bottom far below, often showed a solid band of black just below the keel. Though humpbacks are noted for their wide range of photogenic, above-the-surface behaviors—lob-tailing, fin-slapping, spy-ho

pping, and spectacular, gravity-defying breaches—these whales were too busy cramming their gullets to bother with such displays. Apparently conditions were so good they didn’t need to engage in lunge-feeding or bubble netting, tactics which often send groups of whales crashing through the surface head-first, jaws agape. This day it was every whale for itself, swimming and diving and gorging at will.

Good news for them, but bad for pictures, it turned out. With so many whales milling around—a dozen spouts, backs, or tails sometimes visible at once, spread out at all points of the compass, a fraction of the total number actually there (40 whales? 60?)—we found ourselves almost dazed, like lions awash in a sea of zebras, unable to focus down on one group. The whales’ movements were unpredictable and disconnected; two would dive a hundred yards away, headed toward us, then rise, long minutes later, a quarter mile farther out. Cows and calves, single animals, and pods of up to a half dozen appeared and disappeared as we drifted on the outgoing tide, sometimes rising so close and suddenly that we instinctively leaned back from the enormous, water-parting bulk of their passing. At times, the overpowering fish-reek of their vaporized breath washed over us, clinging in our nostrils. Periods of intense, too-close to focus-and-frame activity, burning through rolls of film while struggling to match lenses to changing conditions, merged with periods with too little water and sky, bad lighting, and not enough whale in the viewfinder. “So many,” I heard Mark mutter. “Why is it so tough?” While I perched on the cabin roof, he ranged the back deck, and Sherrie, an intent dog under each arm, sat by the forward hatch. At one point, faced with a humpback 20 feet off our bow, Chase, like any good cattle dog,  sprang to the boat’s defense, hackles up and stiff-legged, an edge of abject panic in her bark. As the unconcerned whale dove, she settled back with a triumphant, relieved growl. Gus, being a Lab, was more copasetic; what he wanted most was to trade a little friendly end-sniffing with that big, weird thing.

The light inevitably faded along with the day, and we headed home. In the end, I came away with a small handful of images; I kept a dozen or so slides, while most spiraled into the trash after a quick glance. Most weren’t bad, but nothing captured the experience or was particularly useful from a professional point of view. Mark, more picky still, told me he kept just a couple. Somehow, the spectacle of the day, like the lives of the whales themselves, had eluded our attempts at capture in a formal, visual sense. But sound imprinted on memory is another matter. All I have to do is turn inward for a moment, late at night, and the world is filled with the breathing of whales, huge in the silence.

Breathing first appeared in Alaska Magazine, followed by The Glacier Wolf.
All writing and photographs are copyright of Nick Jans 2010


Nick Jans is one of Alaska’s most recognized and prolific writers. A contributing editor to Alaska Magazine and a member of USA Today’s board of editorial contributors, he’s written 9 books and hundreds of magazine articles, and contributed to many anthologies. His range includes poetry, short fiction, literary essays, natural history, outdoor adventure, fishing, and political commentary. In addition, Jans is a professional nature photographer, specializing in wildlife and landscapes in remote locations. He has been the recipient of numerous writing awards, most recently the co-winner of two Ben Franklin Medals (2007 and 2008) and a Rasmuson Foundation artist grant (2009). He currently lives in Juneau with his wife, Sherrie, and travels widely in Alaska. He returns each year to Ambler, the arctic Inupiaq Eskimo village in which he lived for 20 years, and the place he still calls “home.”   For more information, please visit Nick’s website,

Adrift, Autumnal 2010 Read more

John Dahlsen

Oct 04, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories

For more on our featured Sea Stories Autumnal 2010 Artist, click here.

Autumnal 2010 Read more

Robert Mickelsen

Oct 04, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories

For more on our featured Sea Stories Autumnal 2010 Artist, click here.

Autumnal 2010 Read more

John Dahlsen

Oct 04, 2010 No Comments by Sea Stories

K.R. Copeland Interviews Environmental Artist, John Dahlsen:

KRC: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, John. Your impressive body of work, which spans twenty some years — and includes various mediums from oil paint to debris, features numerous sea-themed pieces, suggesting an inherent love of the ocean. That said; please describe your earliest seaside memory.

JD: I’ve always loved the ocean since I was a boy. My mum and dad used to take us kids to the beach each weekend to enjoy swimming in the ocean walking along the beach and just generally exploring. We used to go to very remote locations because my dad is a bit of an adventurer, and later in my life this became something that was very inherent in my system.

I remember most of our trips to the beach generally began with us lying about getting the deepest darkest suntan as possible. Not such a great idea these days with scares about melanomas etc, but in those days it was not uncommon to see us literally pealing great sheets of skin from our backs when it was ready to finally shed. This sounds a bit morose, however it is just very true, and you will find if you ask many Australian children from my generation whether this was their experience, they will most probably agree.

So rather than being a negative memory for me, we were all actually very excited about all of these aspects of early days on the beach in Australia, which included fishing, gathering oysters and abalone etc.

It was in these early days that I first began to surf. Beginning with body surfing, this was a natural extension of my being a competitive swimmer for many years. The great surf, which occurred in the southern part of Australia, had me naturally take up surfboard riding at an early age. It would have been about the age of 12 or 13 when I got my first surfboard and within six months or so I had made the first steps towards standing up on a surfboard, a sport which I do to this day.

We used to go to our childhood holiday home in a very remote part of Australia, which is on the border of New South Wales and Victoria. It was here that my father took us on long walks along four-wheel drive only tracks, to visit untouched beaches, which always filled me with awe. Many years later, I was to visit these beaches with my wife, and collect copious amounts of driftwood, washed up plastics, buoys, ropes and other variables.

KRC: Ah, so, just as I’d suspected, your early childhood experiences infused you with exuberance for the sea, and appreciation for its splendor. That said when did this affinity begin manifesting itself into artwork?

JD: In between all of this, (that what was mentioned prior) I went away to Melbourne to be educated and ended up finding myself at art school in the late 70s. It was during these years at art school in Australia, at the end of the seventies that I first began collecting driftwood to make into furniture; and it was this experience that 20 years later I remembered and returned to the very same coastline to collect driftwood once again.

My creative medium shifted from abstract painting to working as an environmental artist, as a result of an artistic accident during the mid 1990’s. I was collecting driftwood, on a remote Victorian Coastline, with the intention of making furniture and stumbled upon vast amounts of plastic ocean debris.

The initial collection of these objects consisted of approximately 80 jumbo garden bags full of beach-found litter. When I first piled this collection up in my studio, I had friends drop by asking if I was okay! However I knew that an unseen intelligence was at work and soon realized the potential of a giant palate. Then I began the selections of yellow coloured plastics to make up its own pile in the studio, then the red, then the blues, the rope & strings, the plastic coke bottles, the thongs etc. Soon the floor of the studio did resemble a giant painter’s palate.

Seeing all this develop had the effect of sewing the seed, for, I later had the notion of making assemblages of each of these objects once sorted this occurred to me as a natural extension of the process I was undergoing in the studio. This whole new palette of colour and shape revealing itself to me immediately affected me; I had never seen such hues and forms before which enabled me to make new environmental art.

Since then – for approximately 10 years, I scoured Australian beaches for found objects, much of which I found as washed up ‘ocean litter’. I have since discovered this is a worldwide phenomenon, affecting beaches on a global level.

I bought these plastics back to my studio to sift, sort, and colour-code for my assemblages, sculptures and installations. As I worked with these objects, I became even more fascinated by the way they had been modified and weathered by the ocean and nature’s elements. My challenge as an artist was to take these found objects, which might on first meeting have no apparent dialogue, and to work with them until they spoke and told their story, which included those underlying environmental messages inherent in the use of this kind of medium.

KRC: And your messages are what I find so beguiling. That and of course your perpetual shift in artistic mediums; driftwood, paint, found objects, single objects, installations. With all this variety, where does the artistic process begin, and, how do you determine the final destination and or message point?

JD: My work is in a constant state of evolution. I see this largely as alchemical. It is the process of nature’s elements redefining the man-made that created the initial alchemy in working with these found objects, taking the objects beyond the mundane. The second step was achieved through the transportation of these plastics to my studio and the process of sorting and assembling. A further and more vital transformation took place as I assembled them. These found objects then started to tell their story and become transformed into artworks.

I see that by making this art, it is a way of sharing my messages for the need to care for our environment with a broad audience. I feel that even if just a fraction of the viewing audience were to experience a shift in their awareness and consciousness about the environment and art, through being exposed to this artwork then it would be worth it. This stems from the fact that I believe presently humanity is at a critical point in time, with our planet existing in a fragile ecological state, with global warming hastening unheard of changes, all amplifying the fact that we need all the help we can get.

This is my way of making a difference, and at the same time I’m sharing a positive message about beauty that can be gained from the aesthetic experience of appreciating art, as well as giving examples of how we can recycle and reuse in creative ways. These artworks exemplify my commitment as an artist to express contemporary social and environmental concerns. By presenting this art, to the public, will hopefully have people thinking about the deeper meaning of the work, in particular the environmental issues we currently face. I hope these works will act as a constant reminder to people about awareness. I would like them to enjoy the work on many levels and find themselves becoming identified in various ways with each of the artworks they see. I also look forward to the possible discussion that these works may generate as a result. I say these things as being possibilities, bearing in mind as well that comments are regularly made to me about people’s consciousness, while walking the beach, being awakened after seeing my found plastic object artworks, similarly with seeing my recycled plastic bag series, people have marveled at the creative way I am presenting the recycling theme in an aesthetic way.

With this in mind, I have trusted leaving the final alchemy of the work to the viewer with the possibility they may experience deep perceptual shifts and have a positive aesthetic experience as they interact with my art.

KRC: I believe your take on our global situation is (sadly) spot on, John, and the vehicle you use to create awareness and elicit change is an effective one. In regards to interacting with your art, is there a particular piece or installation in your collection that you interact with on a more personal or emotional level than the others?

JD: The answer to this would have to involve my public art projects. In terms of their success, I would most likely look towards two larger ones as being standouts. In this regard the ‘Absolut Dahlsen’ commission alongside the ‘Guardian’ commission are the two of my most favourite projects.

Both of these projects were significant major public art pieces and both were very successful on all levels. There is never really much of a buffer when it comes to financial rewards when you make public art. This is a simple fact about that type of work.

Once in awhile you hear of some artists being commissioned to do large public art pieces and walking away with large amounts of money in their bank for reasonably small amounts of work being undertaken but that is very rare.

With the projects I’ve mentioned here it was also a case of love of the project being far superior for me the love of the money I was making from either of these two projects. I did okay, as you would expect to with projects like these that take up ultimately six months or so of your time, however neither of those projects was about the money.

The ‘Absolut Dahlsen’ commission was a really wonderful experience, mainly due to the team I was working with throughout the whole project. This included the executives from Absolut who worked with me most surprisingly, in a very lateral manner. This really helped keep an exciting flavour from the beginning through to its completion.

The advertising designer team Whybyn Lawrence, were all fantastic which included Stuart Clark and his assistant Lara Wolski, who also came to Byron Bay to my studio on a number of occasions to see the development of the work and to give input into the project, which was always welcome.

I had some excellent professionals lined up to help with this project. This began initially with my engineer, through to the fabrication companies which helped me put together the core structure of the sculpture upon which I attached the thousands of flip-flops or as we call them here in Australia ‘thongs’.

The real beauty of the found object work that I create, especially when I use thongs, is that most people who view it have owned a pair and will enthusiastically scan this sculpture with the romantic and genuine notion that somewhere is an old pair of their thongs that they lost on the beach!

Because of the images thongs conjure up like the great outdoors and beaches, you will most likely find that the public will interact very intimately and humorously with this sculpture, experiencing a fond and genuine sense of ownership of the work.

This is art sending out an environmental message. In 2000 following my being awarded the Wynne prize at the Art Gallery of NSW with the “Thong Totems”, I was appointed the official artist of the new millennium for the environmental organizations, Clean up Australia and Clean up the World.

I am proud of this association, as well as being proud of my association with the Australian Conservation Foundation through Peter Garrett, who was kind enough to open my “Renewed” Melbourne solo exhibition, a percentage of any opening night sales was offered to the Australian Conservation Foundation Marine campaign.

Having the whole project filmed and made into a DVD was another bonus, which I instigated because I knew it would be an exciting project worth recording for posterity and for the use of the general public.

This filming continued all away through to the launch, which was held at the sculpture by the sea outdoor art exhibition in Sydney. This launch turned out to become an “A” list event on the Sydney social scene and was a very interesting experience.

Another really exciting result of this whole exercise, apart from the enormous amount of media and positive response that the work garnered, was the fact that I was able to negotiate with the executives at Absolut and the Gold Coast City Art Gallery, to have this work placed on semi-permanent loan outside the front of the gallery in a prominent position. It is still there to this day.

In fact, the team at Absolut agreed to foot the bill for any further updates that I may need to make to this sculpture as the years go by, and as some of those flip-flops are ceremoniously pulled from the surface via the expected vandals who can’t help themselves. I imagine I will probably do this after a five or 10 year period when necessary.

KRC: Fascinating! I’m glad Absolute Dahlsen has received such widespread recognition and accolades. It’s quite ingenious.  And, if I’m ever in Australia, I’ll be sure to stop by and snag a thong! Care to tell us a bit more about your second favorite?

JD: The other work which I would like to discuss as a favourite project, which I believe really runs in parallel to the Absolut commission, is the Guardian commission.

This particular work was in response to a brief from the Brisbane City Council, who decided that a public artwork would be appropriate for the entrance to Kangaroo Point, which is a small suburb in inner-city Brisbane. It was to receive a new traffic intersection and entrance without the traffic lights that had been slowing down this particular entrance for a number of years.

The successful artist who received his commission was to use any left over roadside materials and recreate it into a large public artwork that would act as an entrance statement. I devised the design, which included the use of a large number of leftover roadside guardrails and also concrete pipes of various sizes to make this particular work.

I designed a work in the shape of a spiral with the guardrails twisting around and reaching towards the sky extending from the concrete pillars. The overall effect ended up looking quite like an industrial tree formation, which reflected the green grass at its base, or a huge wind chime.

I was very fortunate to win the commission to do this particular sculpture as I was an out-of-state artist and I believe I was one of the first artists from another state to receive a commission in Queensland at the time. I was also known for my professionalism and to the fact that I could deliver on time and I also specialized in working with environmental themes and with found and recycled objects. Once again, together with a great team assembled, this project took on a life of its own.

I arranged meetings with the local Kangaroo Point community group to establish a clear dialogue with them and to the gauge the required level of community support, which ended up being overwhelming. I made presentations, answered all questions that came my way and received a very pleasing response and got the go-ahead.

This is very important to me, knowing that the community is behind a project, which essentially means, they are behind what I am creating as an entrance statement to their suburb. It’s a very important milestone to pass, as the work would be ‘in situ’ for at least 10 years and possibly between 50 and 100.

In fact I built it into my contract that the community should be given the right to reassess this public artwork a ten-year intervals and have it either relocated or disassembled if they so wished.

I’m a firm believer that as times changes, as people change, they should also have the right to keep whatever contemporary statement they wish as the entrance statement. Even if this means my particular work may not be there forever.

It is only because of the huge amount of ‘in-kind’ support that I received from both the Brisbane City Council and the road making company Barclay Mowlem, that I was able to make such a significant work for the payment that I received, even though that was in itself quite significant. As a result, I was able to make a work that was probably twice the size than I had originally planned, as a result of all of this ‘in-kind’ support I received in the form of the use of Crane’s and bulldozers, concrete specialists and semitrailers.

The support was enormous and some of the staff including project manager and on site administrator were really instigators of this support and ensured that it would be the resounding success it became.

This artwork will serve as a creative reminder of the reconstruction and improvement of the road safety and accessibility for this community. The local community, by their own daily to-ins and fro-ins in and out of the area have long interacted with the elements that make up this new art piece.

I want the members of the local community as well as all who pass, to experience a sense of real interest, delight or at the very least, amusement on seeing the ‘boring’ and ‘functional’ objects of road infrastructure that they have subconsciously interacted with daily, recreated into a substantial art form – that they will now consciously acknowledge.

For people who walk, ride or drive by this space on a daily basis, it is possible that my installation will involve new discoveries at each passing, or at the very least arouse amusement, that such ordinary and functional items have been recreated into an artwork. By using recycled old road infrastructure from road works -the artwork will convey a subtle environmental message of re-use to those who view it.

Despite the use of strong, robust and long lasting materials reflecting and heralding the masculine nature of roads, bridges and city engineering, the totemic structure will have a tree like quality which will give it an interesting empathy with the landscaped environment.

My aim is that this piece will create a sense of community ownership, whether amused, grateful, bewildered or confronted, most will appreciate that the towns’ engineers and planners have made a serious effort, to install artwork between a major thoroughfare and an inner city community.

The intention, as I see it, of this totemic structure is not to try and soften any image of roads and traffic, but to bring it to an artistic conclusion, where the artwork meets the challenges of its surroundings, reinterpreting it and not trying to digress from the very nature of roads, traffic and engineering with a contrasting message.

Having developed this kind of in-depth rationale in my presentation to the community it really wasn’t that surprising that I received their full support.

Since the sculpture has been in position, it has received wide praise by both the community and also the various media.

This particular work was featured in a virgin in-flight magazine for example and was brought to my attention by many people who saw it.

These are two of my favourite public art commission projects, because they were highly successful and immensely enjoyable throughout the whole process. I trust there will be more in the future like both of these talked about above.

KRC: Ah, the future…that brings me to my final question: What’s next for John Dahlsen; anything specific in the works or on the horizon?

JD: I am open to surprises, and they just keep coming. Teaching others about the importance of the environment through delivering more lectures about my art in public speaking engagements does interest me, particularly as you can see from my web site that I have been a hugely prolific artist over the years, and I have lots to lecture about with heaps of visuals. I think this will go hand in hand with creating new work, as I’m also really enjoying the possibilities I see in my re-entry into painting and making sculptures. These all excite me to no end at the moment.

I remember saying in interviews with the media during the late 90’s, that I hoped that one day I would see less and less litter washing up on our beaches, so that quite naturally my work would find a new direction. This has now happened – on a local level at least.  The situation on a global level has worsened considerably.

After more than 10 years of collecting beach found objects and subsequently making art out of them, I’ve naturally come now to a new form of expression, which was brought on significantly as a result of the decrease in litter either washing up or being left behind on our beaches, as well as a result of my purge painting series and exploration.

Painting the Byron Bay local seascapes and landscapes, mostly images seen by me on my daily walk around the lighthouse and beaches, are painted somewhat with a sense of urgency, due to my ever growing concerns about global warming and its impact.

The viewer can see these works have a certain unmistakable mood within each piece, which has been written about by Dr Jacqueline Millner from the University of Western Sydney: “This play between abstraction and figuration, between synthetic/organic matter and immateriality in the purge paintings, has been applied in Dahlsen’s most recent works to landscapes — dark works whose subtle references to environmental degradation all but disappear before forcefully catching you unawares. This tension between inorganic abstraction and emotionally charged organism lends these works particular resonance, given their inception in the politics of environmental art. They play out, in elegant and economical aesthetics, the unstable boundaries between the natural and the artificial, reminding us of Wendell Berry’s paradox that ‘the only thing we have to preserve nature with is culture; the only thing we have to preserve wildness with is domesticity’

In the immediate future I am exhibiting a major series of Paintings, prints and sculptures in Beijing, which opens on the 18th September 2010 at the Hanmo Art Gallery in the “798” Contemporary Art Region.

Apart from the above, I am also in the process of writing 2 books. One of these is on Environmental art and on my work in particular, which will come with many colour plates of the work. It will be titled, “The Environmental Art of John Dahlsen” and the other is a more practical guide for those in the arts.

It is called “Artist’s Business and Career Strategies.” In this book I have compiled the most pressing issues and answered the most common questions faced by artists and those involved with the arts, from an insider’s viewpoint.

KRC: Excellent. I’ll certainly keep my eyes peeled for your seascapes and publications. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have. I’d like to thank you John, once again, for giving us a glimpse into the methodology and intent of your inspirational artworks. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

JD: The pleasure was mine, K.R.


To learn more about John Dahlsen, check out his website:

Autumnal 2010, Hinterland Read more