A fish out of water
If you’ve been to a fish market in Korea, you may have been confronted with flashbacks from your last screening of “Alien.” Fish, rays and other sea life beckon to the passing throngs, strung up and crucified on wooden frames. Hung like victims of a vicious inquisition, the impaled subjects add a chill to the air.
While some see dinner and others are perplexed by this striking display, one Scottish expat found it compelling. Inspired by the creatures’ unnatural distortion, Craig Stuart’s mind was set ablaze with wonderment. In an age when the convergence of man’s influence and nature’s intention reigns supreme, Stuart set out to examine this theme.
“It’s the whole idea of fishermen; they catch small fish and then hook them up to their line and throw them back to try to get the bigger fish.” Thinking what might happen if those same hooks were baited with Flounder’s freakish cousin, he thought, “Man tries to mimic nature in order to catch it, so how ludicrous would it be to see this thing that used to be a ray back in the ocean?” Like the new kid at lunch, would they be well received or cast off with wary discomfort?
Turning it over in his mind, Stuart raised questions: “What attracts a fish? What makes a fish go and investigate something? And what if one of those things it is investigating is actually a fisherman’s lure?”
In the thrill of the chase, it’s easy to lose sense of your surroundings. Empathizing with the unsuspecting fish, he thought, “They may be attracted to this thing from afar — to check it out, to see what it is — but there’s an element of danger there with a net lurking about.”
It was this thought process that Stuart set out to capture in his series of paintings, “Fish Food” (mixed media on canvas). Wanting to explore how these strange beings might be received once again in their natural habitat, he took to the canvas from his home studio in Donghae, Gangwon Province.
Using a technique reliant on water’s spontaneity, Stuart began each piece by priming the canvas. Next, he added color, “usually something organic — dark brown or blue.” He’d dilute this oil-based color and then add water. “Obviously, the two don’t mix. I pour the mixture on the canvas, and as the oil paint is on the surface, I’ll manipulate it and move it around so it finds its own path.” The notion of relying on water to dictate the final piece intrigues him. “It’s a lot of randomness, and then control from then on.”
Invoking a maritime theme, the series covers a spectrum from a twirling ray in “Lure” to thousands of tiny dried fish featured in “Confusion.” Meant to inspire a sense of curiosity, the works raise questions that aren’t always answered.
“I don’t see why we always have to mess with nature,” Stuart contemplates. “It’s just human nature to mess with stuff.” As a consequence, like Stuart’s works, it’s important to remember that a mess almost always requires water to clean up.
To see the rest of the paintings from this series and to keep up to date with all of Craig’s work, visit him at www.facebook.com/craigrstuart.com — Ed.