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Meet Marie

Marie McKenzie is a professional oil painter and sculptor in Ojai, CA. Her paintings have 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 Years Eve 2019, she decided to focus full time on painting and began releasing a small painting a day during covid shutdown through instagram, which turned into larger paintings, commissions and installations.  She is a member of the Ojai Studio Artists and has her limited editions in many small boutique shops from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica.

Her positivity and concern for the environment shines through her painting 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. Her work has been treasured by both private and public collectors, Marie McKenzie lights up to see her art bring joy to others.


My Story

If you would have 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 is beautiful how our curiosities take us 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 the wooden remnants. Feeling the fibers moving underneath my hands contains a sensitivity, as the wood surrenders in 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 the jig using clamps. The patience of waiting and checking  leading up to this moment of bending, is worth everything. Then the work rests for 2 days. I look forward to opening the jigs like little presents, to marvel in 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 I became enchanted. 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, thick texture, 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 with the kelp forest deepens.


My enthusiasm in 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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