Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Story Behind the Collection – Sea Life

Ah, the Dogs Days of Summer...where I'm from, summer is all about the ocean. Sailboats and seascapes, ocean liners and windsurfers?- pah! none of that really registers with me. At the ocean I am obsessed with what lies beneath. That could have been the subtitle for this week's featured collection, Sea Life: What lies beneath.

Sea Life began to percolate as an idea one summer, well before I had begun actually making collections for Dover Publications. The month was December, but I was in Venezuela, so summer was just beginning. I was there making marketing films for an eco-tourism company of which I was a part-owner. I had a partner named Antonio who was the head guide on our trips into the Venezuelan jungle; he'd spent a lot of time in that jungle–perhaps too much. His idea of a good time was to fill all of our heads with visions of exotic and scary things to come, up river: jaguars, muta-muta snakes, 24-hour ants, tarantulas and pythons. The one vision that really got to me was his promise that we would all go swimming in a river where the piranha would playfully 'kiss our legs'. To my protestations that that sounded like an insane and unlikely idea Antonio insisted that I not worry–"...they're not going to hurt you–they're going to make love to you..."

Not quite a piranha, but close.
I'm not sure how it is for you, but dark bodies of water potentially full of biting things have never been the same for me after the movie Jaws. Pre-Jaws I never gave a thought as to what lurked beneath the surface; afterward, forget it! My imagination could run wild. So in the Venezuelan jungle I spent about nine days dreading my impending date with these kissing piranha. Every river we crossed, every waterhole we passed, even large puddles–became ominous and suspect. Apparently, I was not the only member of our entourage upon whom the thought of this promised (or was it threatened) activity preyed.  In fact, piranha became kind of a quiet, 'pet' topic amongst us all– especially when Antonio wasn't around. 
    As luck (or Antonio's machinations) would have it, we never did get to the piranha place—unforeseen circumstances steered us away from that part of Canaima National Park, and the pleasures of gently nibbling piranha is still outside of my repertoire of experiences. However, there was this one meal before the end of the trip, at which we were served a fish dish which had a very peculiar flavor, and which Antonio refused to identify. During the meal he kept laughing and asking–"now who's kissing who?" (his English, not mine). 

The net result of this experience, from the vantage point of many years out, is an amplification of my fascination with what might be lying just below the surface. After a while this interest became perhaps a little fetishistic, and mannered–a little like your crazy neighbor who collects anything with an elephant on it...  

As I became more professionally involved with graphics all of this fantastic sea life content started to surface around me, and to feed this burgeoning obsession. John Riess at Dover began showing me rare collections of color plates of fish he was collecting; in the Archive I found very old natural history encyclopedias with fantastic sea life engravings in them. We found a copy of Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, and a collection of Ernst Haeckel's Art Forms in Nature. 

The resulting collection ranges from microscopic animals, to shellfish, jellyfish, corals, mollusks, sea mammals, and sea birds. 

But really, the stars of the collection are the fish...

No comments:

Post a Comment