The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 25, 2016

Art That’s Breaking My Heart Today

Photo credit: John Suchocki, Sunday Republican newspaper
Photo credit: John Suchocki, Sunday Republican newspaper

Three years ago, artist Dara Herman Zierlein emailed me out of the blue:

Dear My Plastic Free life,
Thank you for all that you do and the amazing resources!  Below is a link to my watercolor paintings dealing with multiple themes around pollution and the consequences of using disposable one time use plastic items, like water bottles etc… I am an art activist, My name is Dara.  I’m excited to share them with you. Its a very hard to fight this battle alone and I spread the word through my art as I practice eliminating plastic use in my daily life.

The first two images were poignant and beautiful, but it was the third that stabbed my heart and took my breath away.

And then, sadly, the email got buried under a bazillion others.

Last night, finally getting my insane email inbox under control, I stumbled across Dara’s images again and had the same powerful reaction. So I have to share them here today. I asked Dara to send me her thoughts and inspiration for each one. So I’ll stop talking and let her and her art do the rest.  (Click each image to see larger.)

And Even The Oceans

“And Even the Oceans”, Dara Herman Zierlein, 2013, watercolor, 23″ x 15″

A painting of the bright blue ocean teeming with lots of life. Schools of fish swimming in harmonious formation making circles up to where sunshine breaks through the water.  The ocean floor is polluted with piles of discarded tires, byproducts of our modern human civilization using the ocean as a dumping ground.

Soon We Won’t Be Fertile

“Soon We Won’ t Be Fertile”, 2014, Dara Herman Zierlein, watercolor, 18″ x 24″

We see the cross section of a landscape, a tiny garbage truck making its way to a landfill with garbage bags and loose debris in a giant pit, some of the waste tangled in the root systems of trees that seem to be cut and falling at this very moment. Among the falling trees a female biological sign, cut at its base, in mid-fall, with tiny women figures trying to grasp on. Way in the background a giant tsunami wave is ripping through orange skies threatening to swallow the poisoned land.

Baby New Years Plastic World

“Baby New Years Plastic World”, 2013, Dara Herman Zierlein, watercolor, 22″ x 22″

The painting of a baby, sleeping peacefully positioned in the center of the picture, seagulls fly above her and the beach below is polluted with plastic debris that came in from the tide.The inside of her stomach and her ribs are exposed, overflowing with plastic bottles, caps, barbie doll heads and other plastic debris.This painting is about plastic bits found in the bellies of Albatross carcasses that nest in remote bird colonies hundreds of miles off the N.Pacific coast. All victims to human overconsumption and waste.


The story begins for me after doing research on plastic pollution. I used to be a big consumer of water in plastic bottles, spending money everyday on plastic bottled liquids and I got annoyed that my recycle bin was constantly overflowing with bottles. I thought there has got to be a better way, where do these bottles go? I found I had a lack of awareness toward the casual use of single-use plastic products, such as plastic bags, plastic water bottles, straws, lids, tabs, wrappers and packaging material made from plastic, etc. Plastic recycling is frustratingly minimal and not enough to dam the plastic pollution epidemic that is as threatening and impacting as climate change. The plastic gyres polluting the worlds oceans, toxins from petrochemicals leaking into the groundwater and entering our food chain – it is catastrophic.

The more I learned about the devastating impact plastic pollution has on nature, animal and human life, the more I changed my lifestyle, trying to live a plastic free life. I felt I wanted to share my insights and new found knowledge and it inspired me to make a series of paintings about the effects plastic pollution has on air, land, water and life. It is up to the next generation to think it is wrong that food comes wrapped in plastic, because toxins leak from plastic packaging. That it is wrong that grocery shopping comes with multitudes of thin, single use plastic bags when customers could just bring their own reusable bags. That it is wrong that celebrities publicly drink from throw-away styrofoam cups and plastic water bottles when they could drink from glass bottles, and marathon runners in big cities leaves behind a wasteland of plastic cups.

These themes fuel my art! I am hoping through my paintings the message will be seen. I am hoping in my life time I will see people thinking twice before using any single-use plastic articles.


Dara Herman Zierlein is an art educator with a Masters of Art from Columbia University. She is the founder of Art Studio School, writing grants and providing art programs to the community. Dara is a painter and political artist, her subject matter revolves around the paradigm of motherhood, the environmental and political issues from the view point of a woman in American society. Dara frequently exhibits her art internationally. She has been featured and interviewed for various newspapers, magazines and blogs.

Currently, Dara collaborated with Illustrator, Peter O. Zierlein, her husband and they finished their first children’s book ” Don’t Eat the Plastic”, a book to inspire the next generations to be conscious about the environment they live in and to think of alternative ways to eliminate plastic in their daily life. The book is written for elementary age children which she believes holds the future for our oceans and the planets survival.

To see her work and exhibition list please visit:

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6 years ago

Dear My Plastic Free Life,
Thank you for putting this, Dara (and Peter’s) work together. I can attest that Dara was unique and caring as a very young girl. We were camp bunk mates in the Catskill Mountains of NY State. One time Dara went exploring on her own and as it got late and we were hoping she would be back soon, she returned with a tiny frog. dara had long thick beautiful hair and wore a talisman around her neck. The counselors were like, “Oy, she’s covered in mud and what are we going to do about the frog. They let her sleep with the frog and I don’t remember what happened the next day but a discussion of the need for a change of sheets etc. What I’m getting at is that whatever got Dara conscious about the plastic issue was in her all along. She loves, she loves nature, she loves people, she loves animals and is a sincere and talented proponent for the planet and continuing species. I can’t wait to tell the local bookseller about Dara and Peter’s book. Thanks, Stacy F.

debra rothberg
6 years ago

Firstly, I must say I am very proud of my cousin Dara, our family has been given the gift of having a voice and not being afraid to use it. Secondly anyone who has been obsesed with the reality shows Naked and afraid and Dual Survivors has seen firsthand small islands laden with plastics.
I am rethinking my use of plastic of any kind. Unfortunately it is too ingrained in society – its all around. Recycle and renew will be a big answer. Make sure you separate your plastics from glass and insist local government and neighbors comply. If you see say something. Change happens from the ground up. Cous you go gurl xocousd

6 years ago

Thank you Beth! It is great to be a part of this amazing blog & community. It has given me, personally the inspiration I need to keep going!