CLOSE

The Artist Who Paints With Dead Fish

Heather Fortner’s Sea Fern Nature Printing Studio in Toledo, Oregon contains the usual artist's implements—brushes, paper, and ink—as well as a less conventional tool of her trade: whole raw fish. The scaly specimens aren’t intended for eating, but for printing. Fortner specializes in a particular style of traditional Japanese art called gyotaku, literally translated as “fish rubbings.” A direct application of the 19th century technique involves coating one side of a dead fish with pigment and taking a mirrored impression on a thin sheet of rice paper, whereas the indirect method dictates that ink should instead be applied to a paper pressed against the fish’s side–more like the way leaf and gravestone rubbings can replicate an image without altering the object itself. Messy as it sounds, the direct method is Fortner’s preferred means of practicing gyotaku.

Fortner encountered her first fish rubbing as a student at the University of Hawai’i on the island of Lana’i, where she was surrounded by the sea and channeled her fascination with marine life into a degree in Natural Sciences. After graduating in 1978, Fortner spent three decades on the water as a commercial fisherman, a deckhand, and an officer in the U.S. Merchant Marine. During her travels, Fortner took the opportunity to study with Japanese gyotaku masters in their studios, as well as to gather odd fish from around the globe.

Despite gyotaku’s contemporary reputation as an art form, it arose from a more pragmatic practice. When Japanese fishermen needed to prove their skill out on the sea before the invention of cameras and the classic “It was THIS big!” pose, they turned to fish rubbings. The direct relationship between the fish’s physical size and its image on the page was considered so reliable in mid-1800s Japan that the resulting prints were often treated as legitimate evidence of a fisherman’s prowess, and occasionally used to judge winners in fishing contests.

Though it seems odd that a fisherman would immediately coat their most prized fish in ink to prove its existence, the Japanese fishermen who documented their most impressive catches of the day using gyotaku didn’t necessarily have to choose between paper and plate. To avoid waste, the fishermen would wash the bodies completely free of ink after printing, then consume them as usual. Fortner employs the same no-waste philosophy, though she keeps art and appetite separate; she now primarily sources fish for gyotaku from the dead specimens that wash up on shore and makes sure to put them to use in multiple works before burying the bodies in her garden as fertilizer.

Fortner employs a variety of nature printing styles in addition to gyotaku. After taking the fish’s imprint, she must paint in the details, particularly the eyes. She may also add in true-to-life detail from rubbings of ferns or various seaweeds—the better to simulate a marine habitat. She applies the final touches in watercolor.

[h/t My Modern Met]

Original image
Ape Meets Girl
arrow
Pop Culture
Epic Gremlins Poster Contains More Than 80 References to Classic Movies
Original image
Ape Meets Girl

It’s easy to see why Gremlins (1984) appeals to movie nerds. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, the film has horror, humor, and awesome 1980s special effects that strike a balance between campy and creepy. Perhaps it’s the movie’s status as a pop culture treasure that inspired artist Kevin Wilson to make it the center of his epic hidden-image puzzle of movie references.

According to io9, Wilson, who works under the pseudonym Ape Meets Girl, has hidden 84 nods to different movies in this Gremlins poster. The scene is taken from the movie’s opening, when Randall enters a shop in Chinatown looking for a gift for his son and leaves with a mysterious creature. Like in the film, Mr. Wing’s shop in the poster is filled with mysterious artifacts, but look closely and you’ll find some objects that look familiar. Tucked onto the bottom shelf is a Chucky doll from Child’s Play (1988); above Randall’s head is a plank of wood from the Orca ship made famous by Jaws (1975); behind Mr. Wing’s counter, which is draped with a rug from The Shining’s (1980) Overlook Hotel, is the painting of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters II (1989). The poster was released by the Hero Complex Gallery at New York Comic Con earlier this month.

“Early on, myself and HCG had talked about having a few '80s Easter Eggs, but as we started making a list it got longer and longer,” Wilson told Mental Floss. “It soon expanded from '80s to any prop or McGuffin that would fit the curio shop setting. I had to stop somewhere so I stopped at 84, the year Gremlins was released. Since then I’ve thought of dozens more I wish I’d included.”

The ambitious artwork has already sold out, but fortunately cinema buffs can take as much time as they like scouring the poster from their computers. Once you think you’ve found all the references you can possibly find, you can check out Wilson’s key below to see what you missed (and yes, he already knows No. 1 should be Clash of the Titans [1981], not Jason and the Argonauts [1963]). For more pop culture-inspired art, follow Ape Meets Girl on Facebook and Instagram.

Key for hidden image puzzle.
Ape Meets Girl

[h/t io9]

Original image
Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
arrow
presidents
Barack Obama Taps Kehinde Wiley to Paint His Official Presidential Portrait
Original image
Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Kehinde Wiley, an American artist known for his grand portraits of African-American subjects, has painted Michael Jackson, Ice-T, and The Notorious B.I.G. in his work. Now the artist will have the honor of adding Barack Obama to that list. According to the Smithsonian, the former president has selected Wiley to paint his official presidential portrait, which will hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

Wiley’s portraits typically depict black people in powerful poses. Sometimes he models his work after classic paintings, as was the case with "Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps.” The subjects are often dressed in hip-hop-style clothing and placed against decorative backdrops.

Portrait by Kehinde Wiley
"Le Roi a la Chasse"
Kehinde Wiley, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Smithsonian also announced that Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald has been chosen by former first lady Michelle Obama to paint her portrait for the gallery. Like Wiley, Sherald uses her work to challenge stereotypes of African-Americans in art.

“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former president and first lady,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a press release. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

The tradition of the president and first lady posing for portraits for the National Portrait Gallery dates back to George H.W. Bush. Both Wiley’s and Sherald’s pieces will be revealed in early 2018 as permanent additions to the gallery in Washington, D.C.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios