Jess Harwood Art bushfire cartoon

Art as activism: bright cartoons with punchy messages

Jess Harwood is a Sydney-based artist, cartoonist and communications professional who is passionate about protecting the natural world, wildlife and combating climate change. She has long been involved in community groups and the not-for-profit sector and has recently started using her art to support her activism.

Jess loves telling important stories to highlight campaign moments and shedding light on the underhand methods that big mining companies, developers and lobby groups use to profit at the expense of people and the planet.

Sydney-based artist, cartoonist and activist Jess Harwood.
Sydney-based artist, cartoonist and activist Jess Harwood.

Jess recently took the time to chat about her art and campaign work.

I read in one of your Instagram posts that you used to work as a lawyer briefly. Why did you decide to stop? Is your art now your full-time vocation?

I have always been keen to change our environmental laws, so they protect and preserve our precious environment, our wildlife and our heritage.

Art with a clear message.
Art with a clear message. Copyright: Jess Harwood Art.

However, once I graduated I saw that the changes I could make as a lawyer would be incremental. I also realised that I was actually more interested in building social movements to generate the change we need. That’s why I left the law and then started working in the NGO sector.

Activists Creatives

The transformative power of environmental art: Creating beauty from plastic waste

When environmental artist John Dahlsen first started experimenting with what would soon become his creative medium of choice, it had some of his friends slightly worried. The huge piles of plastic rubbish – all neatly sorted by colour – that had taken over much of the available space in the artist’s house certainly raised eyebrows. “Some of my friends asked me if I was OK”, the Byron Bay based environmental artist remembers laughingly.

Byron Bay based environmental artist John Dahlsen.
John Dahlsen is an environmental artist based in Byron Bay. Image credit: John Dahlsen.

But what may have initially looked like an odd quirk, turned out to be a tremendous source of inspiration. In fact, it would change the course of his career.

The artworks that John created from plastic rubbish washing ashore on local beaches catapulted him into the Australian art scene and helped him win international acclaim.

In 2000, John received the prestigious Wynne Prize for his Thong Totems sculpture and was selected as a finalist in 2003 and again in 2004. His work featured in exhibitions in Florence, Milan, New York, Beijing – and countless places in between.

Absolut and Nespresso commissioned work from him to raise awareness about plastic pollution and recycling long before the David Attenborough effect brought the issue into the mainstream.

The accidental environmental artist

All of this was set in motion by happenstance. In 1997, John discovered the potential of plastic rubbish as a means for creative expression while scouring remote beaches in Victoria for driftwood to make furniture. “I noticed all this plastic washing up, so I started picking it up with the intention to take it to the local tip for recycling,” recounts John.

Creatives