Environmental Impact

Mea Duke explores maritime issues through art


Painter, sculptor, and printmaker Mea Duke approaches her subjects with a documentarian’s eye, negotiating and navigating them through multiple angles. They often include marine-related objects like shipping containers or life preservers, but sometimes it’s shrink-wrapped toys or human portraits.

“I’m not trying to tear it apart or to put it on a pedestal,” Mea says. “I’m trying to show a different perspective.”

Half of Mea’s creative process includes researching and methodically planning out each individual work of art. Her canvases sometimes take on added dimensions: she has combined panels to mimic the upturned corner of a shipping container, as if mid-submersion. A canvas life preserver might appear white, but its subtle glowing reflection against the wall belies neon orange paint on the other side. Her final thesis project covered four massive 49.5” x 97.5” canvases with images of Maersk shipping containers from wildly different perspectives: on the far horizon, up close, bird’s-eye, and one in its death throes sinking into the sea, inspired by an actual devastating wreck.

Born and raised in Providence, Mea grew up around art, thanks largely to her grandfather who was a gallery owner.

After graduating with a BFA in Studio Art & Art History from URI, Mea earned her MFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. Mea moved back to Providence’s East Side not long after landing a teaching position at Harvard University last year, which she appreciates for its Bauhaus-style method. Teaching is a good fit because it means she doesn’t have to rely on her artwork to make money, which would “corrupt my intentions and motivations,” she says, describing herself as “kind of a quiet activist.” Mea credits her interest in oceanic subjects with growing up in the Ocean State. Her experience led her to consider “our political and economic relationships with the global shipping industry and environmental impact of maritime operations.”

From a technical standpoint, painting forms the core of her approach: “Sculptural work is still painting to me,” she says. She also loves the methodical, deliberate process of printmaking. “The way I layer a print is the same way I layer a painting – the same principles apply.”

Mea has won several awards and grants, and her work has been exhibited at more than 20 shows in New England, New York, and California. She currently works out of her studio on Fountain Street in Pawtucket.


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