Name: Shannon McCarthy


Hometown: Kaneohe via NorCal


Formal training: Academy of Art University in San Francisco


Preferred Medium: Anything and Everything


Age: 30


She surfs, she paints, she sculpts, she grows things. We love Shannon because she makes us see not only the inherent beauty of the ‘aina and sea, but the things that threaten their survival. Her latest art form, the microplastic mosaic, is activism at play.


What are your favorite materials to work with?


I’ve experimented with a lot of mediums over the past 15 years — pretty much anything I can get my hands on I’ll try to turn into art… acrylic, ink, oil, metal, stone, ceramic, and re-purposed objects/marine debris. I try to let the art tell me how it needs to be made and what it wants to become. I love finding new mediums and processes and jumping into their raw challenges as well as continuing to explore those that I began years and years ago.


Where do you draw inspiration for your pieces?


The Wild, people, music, the moment, the ocean, traveling wherever, the weather, a need to see positive change in the world, the infinite and elusive definition of love and beauty, mountains and pebbles, mistakes, solutions, urban jungles, jungle jungles, good lighting, conversations with friends and strangers.


What turned you on to microplastic mosaics?


The Ocean has been an endless source of inspiration for my art and life; it gives life and art to everyone without question, so it was a natural transition. I first noticed microplastic as a potential threat while running on Kailua beach. I thought about kids making plastic castles now, not just sand castles as of not so long ago. Shortly after, I got involved with the local nonprofit Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii doing big community beach cleanups and started making mosaics with the debris we collected.


There is so much plastic collected from beaches on O‘ahu that has been pulverized in ocean garbage patches, swirled around in the gyres, and was brought here by wind and tide. The amount of plastic pollution now being generated is one of the most severe problems of our time, and no doubt will be for future generations. It has the potential to completely destroy not only life in the oceans, but the entire planet. Everything is connected.


What message are you sending with your mosaics?


The message of this art is directly in the medium: The exact plastic that just recently was suffocating the ocean is now given a new life, to be used for the perpetuation and vitality of life. I’m turning the problem directly into the solution, hopefully to inspire people to think about our throw-away culture and bring awareness of plastic use in the everyday — especially single-use plastics.


You’re a regular out at Tongs and Chun’s. How do surfing and art feed each other?


Surfing and art to me are about being in the present and doing your best to be totally, completely, freely and unapologetically in the here and now — the intense wordless focus, acting with instinct and intuition, feeling and riding the waves of powers so massive/subtle/awesome, both in the ocean and on the canvas. The beginning of the process of art and surf for me is the same: Before I surf, just as before starting some artwork, I offer my first breath to the ocean, ask her to guide me to do whatever I need to do or be whatever I need to be and such, breathe in the energy of the ocean, then generally just go for having a blast with wherever the ride leads to.


Why is planting and growing such a priority in your life?


Growing things, getting my hands in soil, is a way to practice compassion in taking care of things. Planting seeds, eating as local as your lanai, enjoying the meditative side of growing… it’s about connecting with the source of life. Assisting growth, then using plants as nourishment, is a direct way to convert our energy back into life.


What do you hope to accomplish through your art?


I’m looking towards large-scale public works, specifically getting more communities throughout the world to participate in the movement to use less plastic in whatever way they feel compelled. I want to increase transparency on the status of all environmental issues and encourage dialogue at every level that is solution-focused. I want to do my part in the push for art to keep exploding as expression and education through painting/drawing/sculpting. I’m always excited to find out what I am going to do next.


Mahalo, Shannon, for sharing your artistic journey with us. Check out her mosaics at the Honolulu RAW event on Nov. 20th at Crossroads in Hawaiian Brian’s, or stop by Kailua Living to see some of her painted works.