Artist uses Gowanus Canal sludge as paint

Artist uses Gowanus Canal sludge as paint
Courtesy of Mie Olise

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 [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

Sludge art: Red Hook-based artist Mie Olise will use the toxic mud found in the notoriously filthy Gowanus Canal as paint for a series of paintings inspired by structures along the banks of the fetid waterway for her upcoming exhibition at a SoHo art gallery.
Photo by Bess Adler