Why fish?

Old Gag Grouper_36 x 22 x 9 (detail) (website image)

Science has identified 20,000 species of fish with many dozen more being added each year.  Fish outnumber all of the other species together.  We call our planet ‘earth,’ but seven-tenths of the surface is covered with water – 330 million cubic miles of water.  For more than 360 million years, fish have been the dominant species of the aquatic world.  Compared with fish, whales are only upstarts that claim a mere 55 million years’ residency.

From space, the primary feature of our planet is water.  The fishes in all their variety, color, habitat, and diversity are the perfect emblems of that fact.  If we ever make first contact with an extra-terrestrial race, the argument could be that our first ambassador should be of the finny persuasion.

But what do we really know about fish?  We say that something is “fishy”, or that a thing is “neither fish nor fowl” or that we feel “like a fish out of water” without the slightest idea of what a fish feels (whether in water or out).  And although too many of us know people who drink “like a fish”, only a handful of experts know that some fishes drink copiously while others seldom swallow any water at all.

Since time immemorial, to sink beneath the waters’ surface was to drown.  For only two generations of man have we had the technology to swim beneath the waves and observe the fish in their own habitat.  We are only now starting to realize that of all the well-recognized forms of life, fishes are undoubtedly the most mysterious and misunderstood.  In temperate latitudes, there live an extraordinary number of species of brilliant color and diversity inhabiting the coral reefs. In the colder latitudes to the north and south there are fewer species that number in the untold millions who school almost as one organism.

At the water’s surface, most of us are familiar with the popular game fish and food fishes available in restaurants. As my wife likes to say when I proudly show her my latest creation, “Frankly dear, without capers and lemon butter, I’m not really sure what I’m looking at.”  On the other hand, descend to 1000 feet, and you will find sea monsters from your worst nightmares.  Most of them are only a few inches long and feed on detritus that drifts down from above, but encounter them in the pitch dark of the abysmal deep and they will be as frightening as any closet monster conceived in a small child’s imagination.

I’ve worked as a museum exhibit designer for almost 30 years — a wandering journeyman, honing my skills in natural history museums and zoos until I felt it was time to go out and be an artist in my own right.  As I pondered what direction my artwork should take, I thought to myself “How many more landscapes, portraits, still life’s and pictures of ducks do we really need?”  It occurred to me that I had a whole world of color, pattern, shape, form and texture available to me just below the surface of the water.

One thought on “Why fish?

  1. I think your perspective is spot-on and couldn’t agree more! I have an inexplicable, yet all-too-real fear of moray eels. Their sinister appearance and monsterous jaws evoke fearful thoughs even when I swim in a natural pond or river inland. LOL

    I too work in metal and I have been making different game and source fish species for almost 20 years. Although my work isn’t as nice as yours, and I prefer natual patinas and finishes, I’m going to pronouce us “brothers” in our work!

    I’m Houston-based as well, so I’m going to have to look you up and visit you some time soon. You remind me very much of an old friend of mine who perhaps you knew as well. Did you ever meet James “Bear” Limbaugh? He too worked on Museum exhibits and installations and he was also based here in Houston, wish a small (but AWESOME) studio shop just off of Washington & Shephard/Durham area.

    Hope to meet you soon!

    John Martin

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