The multimedia collage work of Santa Maria artist and educator Merrie Okie is being featured in a statewide virtual art auction to raise money for ocean conservation and wildlife protection in California.
This is the second year that Okie's work has been featured in the KEEP IT WILD Virtual Art Auction, organized by ocean conservation and climate change nonprofit WILDCOAST, with a compelling painted collage piece inspired by the blue-ringed octopus titled "Wish You Were Here."
Okie is one of 39 artists throughout the United States and Mexico pledging their support for WILDCOAST by donating their art for the auction, which kicked off Oct. 14 and runs until Friday.
During the 2020 auction, her similarly styled work, "The Siren," was one of the event's top sellers, according to WILDCOAST Director of Development Ann Wycoff.
"The title 'Wish You Were Here' refers to my wish that people would experience the beauty of our coral reefs and marine animals like the blue-ringed octopus, which is threatened in certain areas," Okie said of her 2021 piece. "I love its beautiful, unique colors. And while this octopus is relatively docile, it’s dangerous if provoked. Similar to Mother Nature and global warming."
While her work hangs in museums and art collectors' homes all over the world — from Paris, Sydney and Bali to Los Angeles and Pittsburgh — Okie herself can typically be found working in her studio and giving back to local students.
She spent years teaching art classes and leading drama programs and talent shows at Santa Maria High School alongside her husband, Glenn Goldin, and in August, became the dean of students at Pioneer Valley High School.
In early 2020, Okie and her fellow art teachers at Santa Maria High School facilitated a student-led mural project on 250 feet of plywood wall surrounding a construction site on campus.
Decades earlier, she also was commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to paint a 200-foot mural at a downtown Los Angeles housing project with the help of the teenagers from local street gang Dogtown.
Okie studied painting, photography and sculpture at the University of Southern California and graduated with a bachelor's degree in fine arts in the late 1980s.
She said she is honored to be an ambassador for WILDCOAST, and feels passionate about the organization's mission of conserving coastal and marine habitats and addressing climate change issues with natural solutions.
"I always am looking for organizations that support artists and communities. I've always donated to my causes I'm passionate about," Okie said. "Whenever anyone looks at the ocean, they feel this beauty."
Residents can view and bid on 2021 auction items in the KEEP IT WILD virtual auction online at bidpal.net/keepitwild21.