“Our Patch” Phillipa Swift on John Dahlsen
Every day for years and years, Byron Bay resident John Dahlsen has made an early-morning trip to the beach to collect waste and rubbish washed ashore. He uses it to produce some of the most beautiful works of art I’ve ever seen in my life!
This morning, John invited me to his property and accompanying studio, where much of his work is on show.
On one hand, I found it sad to think about the unabated dumping of thousands of tons of plastics that’ve been used in his range of assemblages. But by the same token, I could only marvel at the creative way this artist is promoting and presenting the practice of “recycling”.
Using variations of plastics, PET bottles, bits of wood, shoes and even Barbie dolls, this insightful local artist produces marvellous, award-winning works of art: from totems and sculptures, through to digital prints and paintings.
Responding to a question about whether or not he is ‘distressed’ by the levels of environmental vandalism and amount of trash he collects on local shores, John says he’s “outraged”.
“I returned to the beach daily to find more and more pieces for my artist’s palette,” he says, “but in an uncanny way, these plastics, as I sorted them and arranged them in my studio took on an unspeakable, indefinable and quite a magical beauty,” he adds.
Fascinating – the ability to see beauty in bits of plastic, PET bottles and fishing paraphernalia and even rotting barbie dolls, all washed ashore, collected chiefly from North Coast beaches.
He started collecting trash from the shores and turning it into art around 12 years ago. “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,” he says.
When he first started, he stumbled upon vast amounts of plastic ocean debris, collecting them in 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!” he adds.
John didn’t see a giant mound of trash – rather, his unseen intelligence was at work. He saw a giant painter’s palate of colours and shapes, hues and forms: selections of yellow coloured plastics, the red, then the blues, the rope and strings, the plastic coke bottles, the thongs… the list goes on.
“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,” says Mr Dahlsen.
Through his art, John is sharing messages for the need to care for our environment. This is his way of making a difference: giving examples of how we can recycle and reuse in creative ways.
“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,” he adds.
John Dahlsen is represented by major public and private collections across Australia – he’s also in many International collections in Europe, USA and Japan.
His art has been written about in all the major newspapers and many magazines in the form of critiques and as articles and pictorials. Radio, television and the internet, frequently interview him about exhibitions and his work as a contemporary environmental artist.
If you’re a local and you’d like to visit his property and check out his pieces, I’m sure you’d be welcome.
If his art isn’t here at his Byron property, some examples of his works can be viewed locally at the Byron Community and Cultural Centre or in galleries across regional and metropolitan Australia, in the US or elsewhere abroad. Next month, for instance, he’ll be in Hong Kong for a charity exhibition, to be held at the World Trade Centre.
He’s presently working on a new series of paintings depicting “The very Byron Bay beaches that I’ve collected these plastic items from, for so many years.”