MALLORCA, OCTOBER 2019.
The Llampuga (dolphin fish) flashes crimson, blue and gold all over its body when hooked. Nobody knows why or how this happens. Stress, electro-energetic fields, pain, fear? We knew this was a female because the males have bigger, protruding foreheads. She was about 60cm long, perhaps two years old but not too young to reproduce; the fish equivalent of teenage. And she had girlfriends. Five more Llampuga swam alongside her. They would not leave her, even when she was pulled up into the kayak. Alizarin charges pulsing down the centre of her body set off cobalt sparks. She was hooked through the right eye, so there was no chance of survival if put back into the water. As she died, the colours bled away, leaving an overall silver-grey. And the Followers vanished.
Working with the bodies of fish, I try to recreate a sense of their live energy. We know so little about these mysterious creatures. I am finding out magical bits of information as I pursue this way of art: the firework acrobatics of wild spawning, how Marlin turn neon blue along the dorsal fin when hunting, how Tarpon breathe air, how some Barracuda carry the toxin ciguatera. When I began developing this Japanese Gyotaku technique into an oils and multi-media art, I had no idea that so much could be discovered while gessoeing a Snook.
Meanwhile, the seas are being fished out. We know almost nothing about how fish communicate, what they feel, how they feel, where they go (Atlantic Salmon) when they spawn (Grouper). It is likely we will kill all the fish in our seas before we know anything much about them.
Sport fishing is, as they say, a ‘sport.’ The word itself now carries righteous significance: a call to (mostly) manly effort and triumph. In the case of Grouper, spear fishing in the Mediterranean has been disastrous because the fish turn to face danger and so are very easily targeted. Many fishermen I know have stopped killing after a lifetime of getting to know these creatures. But the hook, as in the case of our Llampuga, is often enough to destroy.
My friend Daniel Fabian is a marine biologist. He is optimistic that fish stocks can recover, if given a break. He says strict limits on bluefin tuna are allowing numbers to increase; he even saw some swimming off Porto Soller in Mallorca in September. But I have also seen slabs of tuna for sale in many Mediterranean markets over the summer, legal or not. What can we do? Dan says ‘The first thing is to simply avoid eating fish. For now, mussels and oysters, farmed in the Atlantic, and possibly bacalao, fished in Icelandic waters, are the only sustainable seafood. Buy a painting instead.
Film by George Bustin: Desire for Life -