I became captivated by gyotaku, the Japanese art of fish rubbing, at an exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History many years ago. A traditional form of printing in Japan since the mid-19th century, gyotaku was originally used by Japanese fishermen to record their catches. I was immediately taken with the simple beauty and refined details of the art form, but it wasn’t until I moved to Maui in 2008 that I began using my training in printmaking to create my own fish rubbings. Though firmly rooted in history, gyotaku crosses cultures and boundaries and delightfully combines my interests in science, nature, history, and art.
The subjects of my new passion are caught by my spearfishing husband and our friends off Maui’s shores. I use nontoxic inks so every fish may be enjoyed in a meal afterward. I strive to capture the essence of my subject, sometimes exploring unconventional color combinations as I ink the fish and rub the paper or fabric, “feeling” the impression into existence. An original gyotaku features irregularities in the paper or cloth, which add character and individuality to the work, and the result is a strikingly accurate physical record that is also playful, allowing the opportunity for expression and happy surprises.