Painting with a purpose

October 29, 2020 BY

Deidre Carmichael's self-portrait "Our Addiction to Convenience".

Bellbrae artist Deidre Carmichael is using a unique and beautiful form of activism to raise awareness about the affect of plastic on the environment.

About two years ago Ms Carmichael began her Plastic Catch project, which she says was born from her fears about the planet’s future.

“I became very concerned about all the plastics that are in our environment, especially what’s going into our oceans. So, I began doing a series of paintings using single-use plastic as still-life paintings,” she said.

“I was doing them in the style of the old Dutch masters but instead of a vase of flowers, I’d be painting Coke bottles and things like that. Then I decided to target the little sushi soy-sauce fish because being a fish and the plastic in the ocean, there’s an interesting synergy there.

“So, I just paint these little fish and leave the paintings in public places for people to find and keep, and I have a little spiel with the paintings about the problems these soy fish create, just to raise awareness about it.”

When Ms Carmichael began the project, she left paintings outside sushi stores, however, her paintings quickly went missing. The talented artist then decided to leave her work at public places across the region including the Geelong Botanic Gardens, outside Quiksilver in Torquay, at the Geelong train station, and created a Facebook page where people can post about the paintings they have adopted.

She said feedback had been encouraging.

“People have been really positive, and they will say ‘we had no idea,’ or ‘we’re going to treasure the painting as a reminder to avoid single-use plastic’. Generally, it’s been really positive, in fact, I’ve never had any negative response.”

Ms Carmichael also ensures the materials she uses are consistent with her message.

“Everything is biodegradable, because in a way I’m littering, which is an interesting side to it. But it’s a canvas and it’s mounted on a piece of cardboard from an old box, so if it ended in a drain or something it would just rot down.”

Biodiversity is the focus of much of Ms Carmichael’s art even beyond the Plastic Catch project.

Her self-portrait, “Our Addiction to Convenience”, which showed her surrounded by single-use plastics was a semi-finalist in The Lester Prize for Portraiture 2019.

Ms Carmichael was also a finalist in the 2019 Blacktown City Art Prize for her painting “Artefacts of the Anthropocene”. The painting was a Baroque style painting showing a collection of plastics on a wooden table.

The Blacktown City Council was so impressed with the painting and its message they ended up acquiring it.

But Ms Carmichael said her passion for protecting and preserving the environment has only recently intersected with her art.

“I was studying at Deakin, doing a Bachelor of Creative Arts, and they really pushed you to find something you were passionate about to express in your art, that’s where I started the environmental focus.”

To follow the Plastic Catch project, head to