Gyo Taku Aunt Chovy: Jaxsfish Prints are Here
How many graphic artists can you think of who use a fish as a printing press?
Sounds pretty strange, but the artist known as Jaxsfish does just that: he uses the actual fish he catches on his boat Aunt Chovy to make an impression of his catch on paper or fabric. The technique called Gyotaku (gee-yo-tah’-koo), is a Japanese art form that was developed by fishermen about 200 years ago to document (i.e. brag about) their catch in the days before photographs. Gyotaku (literal translation: gyo=fish, taku=stone monument rubbing; less literal translation: fish impression) prints are made by applying and blending paint to the fish itself and then covering it with Japanese paper or fabric and applying light pressure. When lifted there is a transfer of paint from the surface of the fish to the surface of the paper or fabric to produce a dramatic representation of the shape, texture, and in some cases even fine details of the subject. And as with other art, either the original or limited edition high quality prints (made from photographic reproductions) can be exhibited. You can make a little Gyotaku from a sardine or a big Gyotaku from a 250-pound tuna, a print of a single fish, portion of a fish head or a whole school of fish. The quality of the print is dependent on the creativity, patience, and technical skill of the artist as well as the physical condition and appearance of the specimen being preserved (see sidebar for more about the history and technique of Gyotaku).
Of course you can make a Gyotaku print from a fish you purchase at the Fulton Fish Market or your local fish counter but one of the special qualities you get with a Jaxsfish original is the knowledge that the hands that created the art are usually the same ones that baited the hook and captained the boat. If you include all of the time and resources that went into actually catching the fish as well as preparing the Gyotaku, the cost of ownership is really quite reasonable. Catching fish, especially many of the prize fish that are the subjects of Jaxsfish prints, is no easy feat. Many consider fishing to be an art all by itself because there is a certain innate instinct needed to be successful. Jaxsfish had a head start though, growing up in Brooklyn the son of Bernie Schwartz, the proprietor of a bait and tackle shop. So for JaxsFish, uniting the art of fishing with the art of fish impressions was a way to combine passions.
What started out as a hobby and creative outlet has now emerged into a modest enterprise. JaxsFish works are on display and for sale in restaurants and art galleries on Long Island and in Manhattan. He is a regular participant in high end (juried) crafts fairs and art shows and will be making appearances about once a month throughout the Spring and Summer. You might want to check out the Gyotaku Hands-on Demonstration on The Dock At Greenport July 11 1PM or 4PM (approx. 1 1/2 hours). You can check out the JaxsFish website for other locations and dates where his work can be seen (and purchased). And there’s a Jaxsfish print to suit every budget plus merchandise including note cards, mugs, and tee shirts. For more information and to see examples of JaxsFish Gyotaku: