Joanne Tarlin will debut her sculptures made from beach debris at the Union of Maine Visual Artist’s Portland Chapter Gallery next week. Contributed / Joanne Tarlin

Artist Joanne Tarlin of Harpswell has been incorporating debris she finds on the beach into her paintings for a while, but alongside those next week in Portland she will debut pieces she made entirely of the trash.

With her work, Tarlin hopes to illuminate the imminent dangers of climate change, warming waters, rising sea levels and pollution of the oceans. 

Tarlin often incorporates branches from dead shoreside trees into her pieces. Contributed / Joanne Tarlin

While her art alone can’t force change, she hopes that people will see it and be inspired to take action. 

“People might look at it and appreciate the beauty and whimsy, but you also never know when somebody who has the means could make a difference after seeing the artwork,” Tarlin said. “You hope that something you do touches somebody and gets a reaction from them.”

Her exhibition, “Sea Changes: Transformations Wanted, will be featured at the Portland Chapter Gallery of the Union of Maine Visual Artists Aug. 5-29. 

“It started out as just picking up trash, but then when I found certain items, there would be something about the shape, lines or form that would capture my attention, so I started collecting them,” Tarlin said. 


Initially, she used these found items as references in her paintings, but eventually, she began to manipulate them into their own forms of art. 

“I’ll go out at low tide, walk and scan the surface for bright colors,” she said.

Items she uses include plastic bottles, netting, lids, buoys and balloons. She’ll also often pick up branches from trees that have died because the sea level has risen, submerging their roots in salt water, she said.

The first of her sculptures she felt was successful was made from a buoy and a dead branch.

“The branch feels like it’s reaching out. I’m very partial to creating things that have an anthropomorphic feel to them, and that piece feels like that to me. It captures the feeling of the struggle of wanting the planet to be better while there are so many opposing factors,” she said.  

One of Tarling’s abstracts. Contributed/ UMVA

Tarlin’s work was selected for an exhibit at UMVA because  “it is very timely and important, the quality of the work is really good,” said John Ripton, a union member who has been involved in the selection process for artist shows at the Portland gallery over the last few years.


“The sculptures show clearly that we’re at a point where human impact on the seas has been so great that we’d better pay attention,” Ripton said.  

Her work causes people to wonder “if nature still has the ability to balance out if humans mitigate their impact” and demonstrates that we’ve “reached a tipping point,” he said.  

Tarlin’s studio overlooks Harpswell Sound, where she said there’s an initiative to increase eel grass, which captures carbon. That inspired her to sculpt a piece made from green plastic soda bottles designed to look like eel grass, to highlight both the importance of the eel grass and the danger it’s in. 

After deciding to leave her job in the corporate world, she received her masters of fine arts from Tufts University before taking a leap in 2004 to become a professional artist.

“When my children were grown, that’s when I said, ‘That’s it, I’m leaving the corporate world to focus on my art,’” she said. 

Her work has been exhibited in the Center for Maine Contemporary Art’s virtual exhibition and spotlighted in arts magazines.

Tarlin has another show in the winter in Connecticut showcasing her tide pond paintings, which highlight the beauty of the environment, she said. 

The Portland Chapter Gallery is located at the Portland Media Center, 516 Congress St. in Portland.

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