Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Kokanee studies

This is a detail from a series of mixed media paintings I'm working on for my forthcoming exhibition at The Foyer Gallery at Lake Tahoe Community College. The theme of my show is inspired by the spawning Kokanee Salmon, found here in Lake Tahoe.

Mixed media works are great fun, as they allow me to experiment with marks and colours in a more immediate way than oil painting. I use watercolour, pastel, inks and charcoal on heavy watercolour paper - which I stretch in advance to avoid buckling and to create a uniform, stable surface to work on.

Many of these Kokanee paintings have a metaphorical significance for me, and I find the repetitive nature of the designs liberating. There's so much energy and movement in the images, which makes for a dynamic which is visually exciting, as well as thought provokingly open to interpretation. On a pragmatic level, the images are dealing with the life cycle of fish. The kokanee return to the same place they were born (Taylor Creek), to lay eggs and then die. During the spawning they change from silver with a blue stripe to bright pinky-red with blue heads. The spectacle of hundreds of brightly coloured fish 'treading water' in a shoal just beneath the surface of the clear Tahoe water is breathtaking.

The poetic nature of this visually striking display is hard to dismiss. The joyous writhing is soon replaced by death. The luminous colour turns to grey, upturned fish litter the stream - a hearty meal for the bears, beavers, coyotes and birds who inhabit this picturesque landscape. The fertilised eggs are buried in the streambed, and hatch 100 days later, to start the whole cycle again.