Artist uses Gowanus Canal sludge as paint

The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

Talk about oil-based paint!

Red Hook artist Mie Olise will breathe new life into the highly contaminated, petroleum-laden sludge at the bottom of the Gowanus Canal by using the putrid muck as paint.

The Danish-born painter and sculptor is inspired by the abandoned, industrial relics along the banks of the fetid waterway — and she hopes the mud paintings in her upcoming show “Elapsed Intoxicati­ons” challenge people’s perceptions of the toxic slop that environmental officials plan to spend half a billion dollars to clean up.

“To take the mud that everybody wants to get rid of and work with it as a material that will end up in my paintings to be hung on the wall in something traditionally known to be very precious, I find interesting as an idea,” said Olise, who put on rubber boots and gloves before cautiously shoveling up some of the filthy glop on Tuesday.

Olise has long been fascinated with desolate and decaying buildings and landscapes, from a ghost town near the Arctic Circle to an abandoned amusement park in Berlin. So it’s no surprise the filthy Gowanus Canal and the industrial structures on its banks are a bit of inspiration.

“The canal is almost like a ruin from industrial­ization,” said Olise, who marvels at the borough’s aquatic purgatory daily as she bikes from her Park Slope home to her Ferris Street art studio.

“I find this area almost like a dying area of the city.”

The artist will use the jet-black gunk — which is loaded with oil, heavy metals, and other chemicals — to paint a collection of small black-and-white abstract works, and one monumental creation exploring the landscape neighboring the 1.8-mile long federal Superfund site.

The paintings will be featured in a Manhattan art space in May.

“They’re going to be very close up details of things around the canal like a lamppost or a fire hydrant,” said Olise.

This isn’t Olise’s first encounter with the Gowanus.

The artist previously used water from the canal for a series of large-scale paintings of abandoned structures, which are currently on display in Texas.

Olise said that the noxious mud’s thick texture is perfect for her art — and with the help of some white house paint it sticks to her canvases.

“It hangs together well and it’s very, very black,” she said.

She loves it as a material, but that doesn’t mean she is entirely comfortable being so close to the toxic sludge.

“It’s scary for sure — it’s much more polluted than I could have ever imagined,” she said.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at

Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

Reasonable discourse

diehipster from Brooklyn's better half says:
And awayyyyyyyyyy we go!

"like yah, I'm an artist who appreciates the Gowanus"

When will this sh*t end??????? These effin sheep just keep replacing each other. The story and scenery stay the same but the 'world-renowned' artists keep changing. HOW UNIQUE!!!!

Please get the eff out of Brooklyn you try hard wanna be urbanites.
Feb. 7, 2013, 9:36 am
Transplant from Here to Stay says:
It looks like she has some talent. But, even I have to concede that using the sludge is a pretty stupid idea.
Feb. 7, 2013, 9:51 am
asifthesunwasnotup from brooklyn says:
@diehipster: there YOU go, being an even more stereo-typish brooklynite: the complaining one! Like you own this place more that everybody else, and can ask people to leave,-)
Makes me wanna ask what you do to get that priveledge....YOU must be a real genious, wooow-uuhhh!
Feb. 7, 2013, 10 am
JAZ from go home Harrison says:
You just can't make this stuff up. Blindingly pale pseudo-creative comes to kewl Brooklyn to raise rents while she plays in the Gowanus - she's so unique and quirky.

Thank god she transplanted here on her urban adventure to discover the Gowanus!!! She's Red Hook 'Based' - Like Yah!!!
Feb. 7, 2013, 10:49 am
SwampYankee from ruined Brooklyn says:
Die Hipster doesn't understand ART ART ART. If he would just go to her website she explains it all :she "collects stories and later subjectively develop particular layers of the found truths. Concept determines the media in her practice"

Feb. 7, 2013, 11:15 am
John from Carroll Gardens says:
that sample painting sucks. I hope this artist gets a disease/infection from using the water/sludge from the Gowanus, and goes back home to Ohio... defeated
there is nothing cool about this ——ty canal that has gone to pot after the last 30 years of neglect and illegal dumping/misuse.
What is so cool about Brooklyn that these ——birds keep flocking here from the midwest? I just don't get it. I wish they'd just go away, my rent is unaffordable as it stands.
Feb. 7, 2013, 12:01 pm
ty from pps says:
Hmm... This woman appears to be a VERY accomplished Danish artist with a long list of solo exhibitions, group exhibitions, awards, published work all around the world. I mean, it didn't even take any effort to learn this. The author included a link right at the beginning of this article.

But the ignorant townies like DieHipster, Jaz and Swampy have decided to dismiss her in their usual pathetic fashion.

Do you guys ever take any time to reflect on how sad you really are?
Feb. 7, 2013, 12:05 pm
diehipster from Clotheslining Caleb says:
Gotta love how hipster defenders can say nothing to validate all this constant played-out Brooklyn artist BS; they can only copy my name and say silly things like the person at 10:46. Just proves that everything I say about these people is true.

You know that if she gets injured collecting that sludge or gets cancer down the line from playing with it - she'll blame everybody but herself.

You're right Swamp. That is so deep and unique - I just don't get it. ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART!!!
Feb. 7, 2013, 12:06 pm
ty from pps says:
Hey John -- What part of Ohio is Copenhagen, Denmark?

Good to see reading comprehension (even past the third sentence) is not a prerequisite for being an ignorant, whining local douchebag.

And Johnnie Boy, the pollution in the Gowanus Canal has a bit more history than the "last 30 years of neglect." But I'm glad you were able to stuff as many dumb thoughts into one comment. It's impressive.
Feb. 7, 2013, 12:09 pm
ty from pps says:
Does anyone else get the distinct impression that these local townies commenting above would make a great Brooklyn version of a reality TV show like Honey Boo Boo and her family?
Feb. 7, 2013, 2:20 pm
diehipster from Burn the beards says:
Incredible how the "artists and vibrant creatives" have all this exorbitant amount of time to play and make art while paying the highest rents in the country upon their arrivals.

These articles about these people are never about true work or politics or meaningful community involvement. (planting chives and raising chickens doesn't count). It's always about some crap art or pseudo activism or showing off their infinite amount of leisure time.
Feb. 7, 2013, 2:22 pm
diehipster from Burn the beards says:
Ty you aren't real Brooklyn - and it hurts so bad doesn't it?? Hahahahahaha
Feb. 7, 2013, 2:23 pm
ty from pps says:
Hi Diehipster... Nope. It doesn't. In fact, I'm glad to see that most of "real Brooklyn" is dead or dying (or moved to New Jersey). Seems that you're the one "suffering"

Like I said, someone could probably make a lot of money filming you and your cohorts -- like watching a sad, slow-moving train wreck.
Feb. 7, 2013, 2:54 pm
diehipster from where Brooklyn is still Brooklyn says:
Tyler (nice name),

Your day consists of sitting by your Mac in your thick frames, lumbertwirp shirt, drinking your Gorilla or Grumpy coffee and waiting to battle the "die hipster crowd" on these "hipster spotlight" articles. Well, I guess it's almost time for you to meet Connor, Seth and Molly for some microbrews and discuss the importance of kale in the 'nabe'.

You're such a productive yup!
Feb. 7, 2013, 3:09 pm
Mickey Shea from Greenpoint says:
Remember when the woman gave birth in a gallery as
"performance art" ? Remember when her husband did a painting using the afterbirth?
Now there's a painting with toxic sludge.
Can we just cut to the chase and start painting with
human feces mixed with food dye?
Feb. 7, 2013, 3:13 pm
Outsider says:
You just can't make this shi. up. Only in NYC friends. Only in NYC
Feb. 7, 2013, 3:50 pm
Joey Bots from B-Town says:
Can we switch the discusion in order to talk about my amazing musical talent?
Feb. 7, 2013, 4:06 pm
ty from pps says:
Diehipster -- You sound pretty darn defensive. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll get a fee for being the Brooklyn version of Honey Boo Boos mom.

When are you moving to New Jersey?
Feb. 7, 2013, 4:14 pm
ty from pps says:
By the way, what *is* an acceptable name for you? Only "authentic" names like what...? Tony, Shlomo and Frank?
Feb. 7, 2013, 4:16 pm
SwampYankee from ruined Brooklyn says:
yupiie Ty,
you still don't get it. This article wasn't about her art. She would never be notable for her art. we never would of herd of her if it were about art. It's about LOOK AT MEEEEE!. What do we see? Mie puts on her all black artist clothes, Mie puts on her ironic hat, Mie goe down to the Gowunus Canal, Mie gets ironic sludge. But here is where it gets out of hand. Does she do this in a vacuum? Oh, no Mie needs to call the local paper and make sure there is a film crew there to document her antics! IT doesn't count without photos and a newspaper story. Without the photographer do you think this idiot would be wading in to the canal ? Nope. It's all about LOOK AT MEEEEEEEEE! OH MOMMY PLEASE LOOK AT MEEEEEEEEE! I'M CREATING ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART ART !
Feb. 7, 2013, 6:16 pm
ty from pps says:
Oh, Swampy... It must be hard to be you.
Feb. 7, 2013, 6:40 pm
SwampYankee from ruined Brooklyn says:
Same old song from you Ty every thread you accuse real New Yorkers of being "sad" & "pathetic" or "must be hard to be you" but you offer no real defense of stupid hipster antics. Now lets try again, why does this women need to call a photographer when she decides to take sludge out of the Gowanus Canal? Isn't it kind of sad & pathetic that you can't answer that. must be hard to be you. Sad little yupster in a big city where he remains a stranger. Have fun in your bike lane tomorrow little yuppie. Anyone who told you to be yourself couldn't have given you worse advice
Feb. 7, 2013, 7:48 pm
Pat I. from 70's Brooklyn says:
Why not paint with radium...or urainium 238? It's far safer..

JAZ...Swamp...good to hear from ya.
Feb. 7, 2013, 8:02 pm
ty from pps says:
Swampy - Now you've hurt my feelings.
Feb. 7, 2013, 9:18 pm
common sense from bay ridge says:
@swampyankee: When Mie called the local paper, they came running. Why blame her when the site puts it as their lead story?

They are trolling you, DH and the rest every day here, yet you all respond like Pavlov's dogs.
Feb. 7, 2013, 10:17 pm
Joseph from Prospect Heights says:
That this art is making you all so mad is a sign that it is working.

The only "real Brooklynites," after the Canarsee natives, are the original Dutch settlers and their subsequent generations of descendants. Everyone else is a transplant. And the "neglect" really extends back 130 years, not thirty. But who's counting?

Only the people who know how to count.
Feb. 7, 2013, 11:36 pm
it's not a joke from Gowanus says:
There may be some intent on the artist part to call attention to the environmental problems in the canal, but this level of activity verges on being dismissive of the seriousness of the problems here--no, it actually is dismissive of the really problem of living next to these toxins, year, after year. Is there any wonder that people from the neighborhood are angered by the artist's actions?
Feb. 8, 2013, 8:18 am
no-permits from here says:
“I find this area almost like a dying area of the city.”

What a stupid comment.
Feb. 8, 2013, 9:20 am
Albert from Ditmas park says:
At Ty from pps

"I'm glad to see "real brooklyn" is dead or dying", is wrong.
I am the "real brooklyn" you refer to. Born and raised in brooklyn, still here and not moving to New Jersey or any where else for that matter.
I don't hate the whole hipster thing going on in some parts of brooklyn and honestly I think it's pretty funny.
To all the hipster haters, I'm not against you all, but remember Brooklyn is what you make it, don't let the newbie, look at meeeee do ironic art and sip micro brews in artsy cafe's while I discuss existentialism with Caleb and Molly ruin it for you. Brooklyn is so many things now, some if it may annoy the hell out of us but let's just keep it moving.
Trust, the whole hipster, look at me phenomena thing will ride itself out and then there will be something else.
Feb. 9, 2013, 9:30 pm
Zachary from the city that never sleeps says:
Don't waste your time cursing her, the toxic sludge will get her worse then your cruel words. She's raising awareness about the most polluted body of water in America, and I like the art. Peace.
Feb. 11, 2013, 12:12 am

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.