Opinion8ed: Mr. Fish, Most artists would not be able to recall their very first work, but I’m guessing you might. Do you recall that first Gyotaku? What type of a fish did you use and what first inspired you to try your hand at this Japanese folk art?
Jaxsfish: Actually I don’t recall my first fish print. I was a teacher at the time and it was done with my first grade class about 36 years ago. A fellow teacher showed me how to do Gyotaku and I thought it was a perfect hands-on activity for teaching kids about fish. The fish I printed that had me thinking about fish printing as an art form was done 5 years ago with a good friend of my son’s. He is a great fisherman and was reading about Gyotaku and brought a 30-pound striped bass over to my house and we worked together to print it onto Japanese paper. It is hanging in my foyer now- it has great sentimental value for me.
Opinion8ed: What was the largest and smallest fish you’ve done to date?
Jaxsfish: The largest whole fish I’ve printed was a 42-pound striped bass. The smallest was a 3-inch peanut bunker. Ironically, one of my prints has the largest fish chasing several of the smallest fish- life is tough if you’re a 3 inch peanut bunker. I have a yellowfin tuna in the freezer waiting to be printed – it’s quite a bit larger than the striper. I also did the head of a 230-pound big eye tuna I caught. I wanted to print the whole fish but the crew wouldn’t hear of giving away their share.
Opinion8ed: I’m not surprised…Are there types of ink you can use that allow you to consume the fish when you’re done printing it? I’m dreaming about all the delicious meals that 42 pound striped bass might have made.
Jaxsfish: I print using oil-based inks and of course, apply the paint directly to the fish, so no- you can’t eat the fish after I use it. However, if it is a larger fish I will fillet half for the table before printing the other half.
Opinion8ed: So you can have your fish and print it too… That’s ingenious and a good compromise – I guess you really only need half a fish to make the print…
Jaxsfish: Some Gyotaku artists use water based inks and say that you can eat the fish when they are finished but truthfully, I’m not sure I would want to eat a fish that has be handled for a while. My overall philosophy is that almost all the fish we catch are released immediately. Of those we don’t release almost all the rest go for food. Only very few fish are made into Gyotaku. I don’t believe a fish much cares if it is eaten or “immortalized” as a piece of art.
Opinion8ed: With any art form, skill develops over time and with practice. Have you been influenced by others’ work? How have your Gyotaku evolved and are there technical and/or artistic challenges you think about as you continue to do new works?
Jaxsfish: I have had the good fortune to have been taught by some of the best Gyotaku artists in the world. Each time I work with them, or see their work, I realize how much I want to learn. My work continues to evolve as I acquire new techniques and try different compositions, backgrounds, and groupings of fish. As for technical challenges, there are so many- the fish must be prepared and posed and the paint applied in a specific manner. The paper or fabric has to have specific characteristics and the actual printing has to be done with a certain pressure- but like all art forms- the technical fades in importance for those looking at the work- it is the overall impression and emotion that the artwork has on the audience that really matters.
Opinion8ed: I really like the fact that you were a skilled and passionate fisherman long before putting first fish to canvas and that your art captures the holistic experience of fishing. Given your background working part time in your Dad’s bait and tackle shop in Sheepshead Bay I imagine you were fishing for as long as you can remember.
Jaxsfish: Well, as you say, my dad owning a fishing tackle store put fishing in the forefront of my life from an early age but when you work in a fishing tackle store you don’t get to actually go fishing that much. I knew a lot about fishing but a lot of it was, shall we say, theoretical. When I had my own boys Mary and I decided that there could be no better family bonding activity so we fished and fished with them- that was really the motivation for the Aunt Chovy. Both boys grew up loving fishing and while my youngest, David lives in Nevada, we still fish together whenever he comes to N.Y. My oldest boy, Matt lives in Manhattan and comes out to Shoreham almost every weekend from May to December to fish with me. Because it bonds us so much as a family it has been an incredible rewarding sport. It seems perfect that being able to catch fish works so well with wanting to turn fish into art.
Opinion8ed: I know that you have a very close family and are a loving father and grandfather from your print subtitled, “To My Granddaughter Delaney, Our First Porgy Together, July 1, 2007 Gramps” shown on your website under the category Prize Fish Prints. Do you envision passing on your passion to your children or grandchildren some day?
Jaxsfish: The only passion I want to pass on is curiosity and a love of learning. My boys have their own wonderful passions and my grandchildren are a little young to turn into budding fish print artists. Eliot is only 1 ½ and would pretty much eat the paint and the fish indiscriminately and Delaney is 2 ½ and does have an artistic bent. I plan on doing some printing with her when she comes to NY. next month but I don’t care if fish printing becomes a passion with her or not.
Opinion8ed: Speaking of your close family, I understand that you named your boat after your favorite Aunt Chovy… Just kidding, of course. But that’s a great name for a boat… how did you name her?
Jaxsfish: The name comes from when my boys were very young. We had just picked up our first boat- a little 14 footer and were at the pizza place trying to come up with a name. The waiter came over and asked if we wanted anchovies on our pizza and the boys thought it was hilarious and started chanting aunt chovy, aunt chovy- seemed like the perfect name for our boat. They were a little young to get the double meaning at the time.
Opinion8ed: As any talented artist is discovered their work becomes sought out or commissioned. Tell us a little about how the commercial side of your artwork has grown. How much of your time has this taken up and do you find this rewarding (in both the literal and figurative sense)?
Jaxsfish: Producing artwork and selling artwork combine to make more than a full time job- I pretty much work at it seven days a week. I try to paint during the winter and do art shows and promote my work during the other three seasons. Last year was my first year selling commercially and I had no originals left by the middle of the summer- who would have thought that fish pictures would be so popular? My work is at La Plage in Wading River, The John Dory seafood restaurant in Manhattan, sushi restaurants and Terrence Joyce Gallery. This year I will be doing several art shows in Manhattan- Washington Square Park, Lincoln Center and Gracie Mansion. I will also be doing quite a number of shows on Long Island- Montauk, Southampton, Hampton Bays and Westhampton. I love talking to people about the artwork so doing art shows is perfect. Gyotaku is a relatively unknown art in the Northeast and people are surprised and delighted to know how they are made.
Opinion8ed: Thanks again for your time and for sharing your experiences with Opinion8ed. May the Fish be with you.