Five Eco Artists of the 21st Century

31st December 2020

By Poppy Winsor, SDA Member

Illustrations by Rashi Agarwal, Creative Director



Marina DeBris fantastically up-cycles rubbish from the ocean in her art to raise awareness of sea and beach pollution. She utilises marine debris (as her name suggests) to create high-fashion garments and photographic sets, quite literally using one person’s trash as someone else’s treasure - pollution is reborn as art, or ‘trashion’ as DeBris calls it.

Concerned by the effects that waste has on marine life, DeBris’ work encourages us to rethink our excessive amount of waste and the subsequent impact our wasteful habits have on the environment. 

Her sculpture (pictured) was created for the ‘Sydney Sculpture by the Sea’ event in 2014. More recently, she has been listed as one of the top 30 most influential contemporary women artists.  

A sculpture for the ‘Sydney Sculpture by the Sea' event in Sydney, Marina DeBris (2014)



Olafur Eliasson is a Danish-Icelandic artist known for employing elemental materials in his artwork. His Ice Watch series is one of his most publicised and politically controversial installations, with the series even being acknowledged at the 2015 UN Climate Summit in Paris. Eliasson placed twelve huge shards of ice that had fallen off glaciers in Greenland and arranged them outside the Place du Pantheon where the delegates were meeting. 

Leaving the ice blocks to melt, they disappeared within nine days. Ice Watch highlighted the prevalence of the issues being discussed surrounding climate change at the summit - it is estimated that 10,000 ice blocks like these are dissolving into the ocean every second, contributing significantly to rising sea levels. Eliasson’s installation reminds us of the urgent need to combat the effects of global warming by tangibly showing us the detrimental consequences that human actions have on the planet. 


“Facts alone are not enough to motivate people; at times they even create the opposite effect. We need to communicate the fact of climate change to the hearts as well as heads, to emotions as well as minds.” - Eliasson

'Ice Watch', Place du Pantheon in Paris, Olafur Eliasson (2015)



Jeff Hong is a New York-based animation artist who has playfully adopted Disney’s most popular characters in his work. Altering our common perception of fairytales and the ‘happily ever after’ trope, Hong subverts the classical renditioning of Disney’s most famed princesses such as Ariel and Cinderella.

These acts of subversion serve to make poignant ecological  statements which stress that, if we fail to look after the planet, our own fairytale will not have a happy ending. 

Ariel is seen here emerging from the filthy oil filled sea, one artwork from the 'Unhappily Ever After' series, Jeff Hong (2014)



Harashima uses traditional Japanese items such as handmade bamboo baskets and alters them into fashionable and contemporary furniture pieces. Reminding us of one of the easiest ways we can be more sustainable, Harashima re-uses and re-purposes objects that we already have. 

Harashima was inspired by a Japanese spiritual concept, the ‘Tsukumo God’, which is associated with the belief that all tools have a spirit that grows and ages over time. This is reflected in his creative practice, a process that turns the old into something new in order to rethink the relationship between the two temporalities. 

Harashima’s artwork is an encouragement to contemplate our habits of consumption in modern society. 

 'Bamboo Basket Table', Ryosuke Harashima (2018)



Using the toxic runoff found in the Ohio River as pigments for his paintings, John Sabraw recycles these chemicals and turns them into paint. Underground mining in Ohio dates back to the early 19th century, and the now abandoned coal mines have been poisonous to the waterways and ecology. 

Collaborating with scientists, Sabraw extracts pigments such as iron oxide from hazardous waste to create the paints from the process of remediating polluted streams. The production of pigments from the toxic sludge on a large scale could be marketable and  support the removal of the pollutants as its own industry in the future. 

Using innovative techniques to turn pollution into art, Sabraw’s ingenuity has captivated the attention of many in order to raise awareness of the universal need to combat water pollution. 

A toxic sludge painting, John Sabraw

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