Under the sea: marine life artists have discovered the beauty of the undersea world of marine animals and passed their devotion and activism onto collectors worldwide - Marine Art
Art Business News, August, 2002 by Maja Tarateta
Approximately 70 percent of the earth is covered by water, but it remains a world that few people have experienced. Indeed, the sea is a mystical place where whales make their home; where dolphins, manatees and incalculable species of fish swim; and where so much life lives in danger of extinction. It is this threat that sparked an interest a little more than two decades ago in the art of life under the sea. Although a few artists, like Larry Foster and Richard Ellis, were painting underwater scenes before that time, it was not until the early 1980s, when the environmental movement began to really vocalize its concerns to the world, that the popularity for marine life art began to grow. And as concerns for the life of the sea continue to find support, so does the art that depicts it.
For most of the artists who paint in this genre, the story of their beginnings are similar: an experience whale-watching, snorkeling or scuba diving sparked a desire to depict the world they witnessed underwater in a painting. In the early days of the movement, much of the artwork was more romantic or fantasy oriented. Today, authenticity wins out as the predominant style. "My images are based on reality," said marine life artist Paul Brent, based in Panama City, Fla. "But I don't sit with the fish while I paint, so it becomes an interpretation, although you know what type of fish it is. But you will also notice nearly imperceptible changes to the eyes and mouth of the fish I paint that make them look more human."
Years ago, said artist David Miller of Maui Art of Sacramento, Calif., underwater fantasy scenes with dolphins were all the rage. "Now, the focus is more on realism," he said. "Tranquil beach scenes are very strong, or a beach with dolphins seen at the surface is popular. While the work may be photorealistic, my goal is to make the scenes romantic, make the dolphins look like a family."
Artist Wyland, based in Laguna Beach, Calif., said, "My work has become more realistic, based on the experiences I have had on expeditions. But it is still very soulful," he said. "I try to paint the whales and the great spirit they possess. It's pure art that reflects the beauty and power of nature."
Subjects as Diverse As the Sea Itself
While marine life art can really depict any life forms that exist in the world of water, including some species of birds, frogs and turtles, as well as coral reef, star fish and sea horses, certain subjects have revealed themselves to be more popular among collectors. Said artist Apollo, based in the Big Island of Hawaii and in Lake Tahoe, Calif., collectors tend to favor "dolphins because of their playful spirit, whales because of their sheer size and intelligence and reef fish and coral because of their beautiful color diversity."
At Artist of the Sea, a Web site launched late last year by Joyce Yaffe, former director of the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in Dania Beach, Fla., the focus is on life-like representations of great game fish, especially marlin and sailfish. Fantasy fish, she said, have no place on her site. Rather, she said, collectors come to ArtistoftheSea.com to purchase marine art that "captures the thrill and excitement of big game fish or the quieter, stealth catch in the shallows. The vibrant colors of the sea and sky and the exquisite detail of the fish are realistic and representative of nature's stunning beauty." The artists she represents, she said, are all fish and wildlife enthusiasts.
Unlimited Sea Lovers, Unlimited Collectors
Gallery owners who show marine life art in their shops are often enthusiasts, too. It was actually a love of humpback whales that spurred Julie Rogers to open a gallery, called Endangered Arts, on Hilton Head Island, S.C., with her husband nine years ago. The gallery's name not only represents the fact that the couple sells only s/n editions but also that they feature the work of Wyland among the 27 artists they showcase. "This is an island with bottlenosed dolphins and loggerhead sea turtles," explained Rogers, "and Hilton Head makes people very aware of the environmental aspects of the island. The gallery is a perfect fit, and its art is popular with both locals and tourists alike."
Indeed, collectors of marine life art are not limited, as one might think, to those who live near the sea, although many collectors do come from coastal areas. Others are introduced to the art during vacations to tropical locales, where they purchase their first pieces in the genre as a remembrance. "I am always amazed where the orders come from," said Brent. "Did you know that there are more registered scuba divers in Colorado than any other state? Plus, the growth of interest in aquariums in homes and offices has also led to an increase in the popularity of tropical life art."
Interestingly, artists and gallery owners speak of increased sales of marine life art to Japan. This is in sharp contrast to the fact that Japan remains one of the few countries that continues to kill hundreds of whales each year in the name of research while selling the meat for profit and claiming that the whales, although dwindling in population worldwide, are destroying the country's fisheries industry. However, a new movement has evolved of late in the land of the rising sun. Each summer, according to The New York Times, 100,000 people now go whale watching in Japan. The hope is that the whale-watching industry of Japan will become as respected as it is in places like Mexico, where 1.15 million square miles of coastal waters are now protected as a whale sanctuary.
Collectors are often sparked by awareness of the danger marine animals are in. "There is a new awareness that we need to save our oceans if we intend to save ourselves from environmental catastrophe," said Apollo. "I believe people are fascinated by both the diversity of life and the shear beauty of this unseen world and its inhabitancy. I believe marine art has appeal to anyone who loves the earth and its oceans."
Apollo, like other artists, has not found any geographical restrictions on the sale of marine life art. "I have even sold to people in such places as Kansas. The love of the oceans," he said, "is not restricted to the location in which we live."
In the marine life genre, price is also not a restriction to purchase. Much of the work is available in licensed materials that appeal to a wide audience. Bath tiles, shower curtains, puzzles, wallpaper and coffee mugs, all bearing images of sea life, are popular with collectors from children to grandparents and appeal to men and women alike. Open editions, limited editions on paper or with silk screening added for additional texture, giclees on canvas, original paintings in watercolor or acrylics, bronze sculptures, signed and numbered pieces ... the list of available options in the genre seems without end. Price points are also varied, from approximately $30 for a poster to more than $100,000 for an original work, and everywhere in between.
Marine life art is also a movement collectors and gallery owners can feel good about supporting. "We're here every day educating people" about the perils ocean life is in, said gallery owner Donald Peterson, who with his wife owns the seasonal Sea Life Galleries in Avalon, N.J. "The more people we convert, we're doing a greater service to the environment." The seven-year-old gallery's $500,000 art inventory consists mainly of Wyland's work.
The marine life artists themselves also work to bring awareness of the plight of the oceans to the fore. Apollo has worked with such organizations as Earthtrust, the American Oceans Campaign and the Center for Marine Conservancy in Washington, D.C. Brent has linked with such groups as the Baltimore Aquarium and Dolphin Splash. Artist of the Sea artists support the efforts of fellow marine life artist and marine biologist Harvey, who, according to Yaffe, works to protect the oceans and their inhabitants through the Guy Harvey Research Institute in Florida. And Wyland has worked with the Oceanographic Institute for Whale Research and the Sierra Club, among others. He also is on a mission, begun in 1981, to paint 100 "Whaling Walls," life-sized murals of marine life painted for free in public spaces around the world in an effort, according to Wyland, to "raise awareness to the plight of whales to the public." To date, he's completed 89 walls, including a Guinness Book of World Records-winner for the largest mural in the world, and hopes to complete the effort by 2011. Through the Wyland Foundation, in conjunction with the University of California, San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, he is also embarking on an effort to bring an environmental education program to the nation's schools.
Although the genre of marine life art is relatively young, it shows no signs of disappearing. "As long as the oceans need saving and people have a love and fascination about it," said Apollo, "marine art will endure."
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Maja Tarateta "Under the sea: marine life artists have discovered the beauty of the undersea world of marine animals and passed their devotion and activism onto collectors worldwide - Marine Art". Art Business News. August 2002.