Tess Felix: Transforming Ocean Debris into Art that Speaks Volumes

Tess Felix in her studio by Fabian Aguirre
Tess Felix in her studio by Fabian Aguirre

In the realm where art intersects with environmental consciousness, Tess Felix stands as a unique force, weaving a tapestry of creativity and activism by transforming ocean debris into captivating portraits. With her film, “Tess Felix: Portrait of an Artist,” set to screen at this year’s Ocean Film Festival, lets embark on a deep dive into the world of this visionary artist, exploring not only the beauty of her creations but also the profound messages they convey about the perils facing our oceans.

Nestled along the shores of Stinson Beach, California, Tess Felix scours the coastline for the peculiar remnants of our daily lives – discarded fragments of cell phones, plugs, dental picks, bottle caps, fishing gear, old batteries, hairbrushes, and even plastic tubes and nets from oyster farming. This collection of marine debris becomes the palette for Felix’s larger-than-life artworks, where thousands of plastic pieces find new life, intricately layered and adhered to the canvas with silicone glue.

Tess sorting through Ocean Debris on Stinson Beach,
California by Maya
Tess sorting through Ocean Debris on Stinson Beach, California by Maya Pisciotto

Tess’ artistic expertise takes centre stage in her mosaic portraits, a playful yet important response to the grave challenges confronting our oceans and marine life. Through her imaginative lens, she seeks to capture the human soul, navigating the waters of serious environmental issues with a blend of humour and creativity. Her intention is clear – to spark curiosity and initiate meaningful conversations about our collective responsibility for the problem at hand.

“My larger works include thousands of such pieces, layered and pasted to the canvas with silicon glue.  The process takes a long time, sometimes months.”

A striking contrast unfolds within Tess’ artwork, where the humanity of the figures she depicts clashes with the synthetic materials they are made of, linking the undeniable connection between human actions and environmental consequences. Her art serves as a mirror, reflecting our intertwined existence with the very problem we have contributed to, urging viewers to contemplate the impact of their choices on the planet.

Unlike traditional artists, Tess refrains from painting over the plastic bits and pieces she salvages from the ocean, leaving them in their “natural state.” The origin of her early series, “An Ocean in Crisis,” stemmed from a winter storm that blanketed Stinson Beach with an unsettling abundance of plastic debris. Rather than masking the raw reality of the pollution, Felix chose to embrace it, turning the debris into a powerful medium for her artistic expression.

Preparing Ocean Debris for Art, by Fabian Aguirre- Studio

In her recent series, “Ocean Eco Heroes,” Felix pays homage to individuals who champion environmental causes. Despite being encased in beach trash, the subjects exude a sense of purpose and determination through their eyes. Through this narrative, Felix not only applauds the efforts of ocean activists and leaders but also emphasises that her voice, as an artist, echoes the stories of the places, the people, and the ocean she holds dear.

What reaction would you like people to have to your work – and what do you want them to take away from it?

“Looking at the details of a portrait, one will invariably see an item that is familiar to them; they are made primarily of things from our daily lives. If this recognition inspires curiosity or sparks a conversation about art or pollution, that is enough. If they take an additional step and change a plastic habit, such as never using single use plastic again, then all the better. Each portrait, in its largest sense, is a reflection of the viewer and their time on this planet. The message is in plain site”.

Get your tickets today to avoid disappointment at oceanfilmfestival.com.au

And let this incredible story inspire you to make a change

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