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Meet Marie

Marie McKenzie is a professional oil painter and sculptor based in Ojai, CA. Her paintings exude a dream-like quality and are easily recognized for her use of soft colors and transparencies to explore the natural world.

When Marie moved to Ojai on New Year's Eve 2019, she decided to focus full-time on painting and began releasing a small painting a day during the COVID lockdown through Instagram. This initiative evolved into larger paintings, commissions, and installations. She is a member of the Ojai Studio Artists and has her limited editions featured in many small boutique shops from Sebastopol to Santa Monica, California.

Her positivity and concern for the environment shine through in her paintings and sculptures. Her love for the ocean and working with unique mediums led her to donate a portion of her proceeds to help with kelp reforestation. Treasured by both private and public collectors, Marie McKenzie lights up when she sees her art bring joy to others.


My Story

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be creating sculptures and oil paintings inspired by kelp, I would have asked, “What is kelp?”

It's beautiful how our curiosities take us to places we never would have imagined.

Coming from the Midwest, the sparks of oil painting have been flying since I was first introduced at the age of 11. Then, there was a moment in my undergrad when creative wonder was again ignited. I remember walking into the foundry of the sculpture department and discovering a wild apparatus. I found a propane tank hooked up to a camp stove boiling a pot of water, with a hose connected to a PVC pipe on sawhorses, billowing steam. This was my first experience with steam bending wood, and I fell in love right away. I first coiled wood slats around tubes, then began creating undulating ribbons, which made way for Kansas tallgrass-inspired sculptures.

Steam offers aromatherapy, warmth, prana, and gives new life to wooden remnants. Feeling the fibers moving underneath my hands contains a sensitivity, as the wood surrenders its flexibility. Sometimes it takes many tries, unsuccessfully, until finding just the right amount of time to cook in the chamber. When ready, the bend happens quickly, with less than 30 seconds to get the piece of wood into a fixture using clamps. The patience of waiting and checking leading up to this moment of bending is worth everything. Then the work rests for two days. I look forward to opening the fixtures like little presents, to marvel at their elasticity and curve.

Fast forward to now, living in Ojai in 2021, I had been missing sculpture and began to notice the broken, washed-up pieces of kelp on the beach. I remember holding the blades and seeing my hand through it, oddly transparent. I did not know much about giant kelp at the time and started to research it. The more I learned, the more enchanted I became. Sequestering carbon, holding our coastlines, supporting hundreds of species, filtering the water, canopies growing up to 150 feet tall in ideal conditions—the list goes on and on.

Then I heard of bull kelp’s staggering decline in Northern California.

My heart sank. I wanted to do something.

Thinking back to my steam bending days, I began experimenting, bending plywood with the intention of creating a kelp forest. I did not know how this would stand up, but I followed my curiosity and the call. During this time, I wondered what kelp would look like in oil paint as well and began my first painting of kelp.

When painting, the senses come alive, and everything slows down. The nutty aroma of walnut oil paint fills the air. I love the feeling of the paintbrush in my hand, the thick texture, and brushstrokes setting the background. Working from thick to thin, layer after layer, adding and removing—the push and pull is methodical, intuitive, and playful. In my imagination, the movement of water emerges and the light breaks through the composition. A divine connection; time disappears. Drawing underwater worlds from photos and recent experiences, my attachment to the kelp forest deepens.

My enthusiasm for making art about kelp led me to find a benefit line in support of the forests. When I first discovered SeaTrees and learned of their successes in 2021, I felt hopeful for the restoration of kelp forests. In 2022, I partnered with them and continue to give 10% of all kelp-inspired artwork proceeds to help regenerate kelp and blue carbon ecosystems. Together, we can make a difference.

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