Gyotaku Art Exhibit Opens In Passages Of The Deep

February 19, 2009

A new art exhibit has recently been installed in the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Passages of the Deep exhibit. Original gyotaku prints by Bruce Kioke complement the colorful Aquarium fish swimming nearby. “It’s a great opportunity to expose people to the art form,” said Koike, “and hopefully it will inspire appreciation for fish and other life forms.” He said it also has a natural stewardship message. “We need to be good stewards of the environment and native flora & fauna.”

Koike, Director of Aquarium Science Technology at Oregon Coast Community College in Newport, took an interest in the marine environment at a young age and his life seems to have evolved around water and fish. He earned a Master of Science degree in Fisheries from Oregon State University in 1988 and has worked at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans and the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

Gyotaku involves the application of paint directly onto a fish and transferring it onto rice paper by rubbing the fish by hand. In Japan, this was a way to record the size of a fish using traditional black ink. In the United States, gyotaku has evolved into an art form that includes color. Since each print is executed by hand, no rubbings are exactly alike, and each print evokes a different emotion.

Koike was at the Hatfield Marine Science Center when the inspiration came to him. “I walked by people who were doing it and immediately wanted to try it. I bought some paper, paint, brush and started printing. The first one was a pile perch I caught in Yaquina Bay.” But it wasn’t until he finished his degree and went to New Orleans that he began to print frequently. “That was how we decorated our house. Out of that original batch I still have two.” Koike said the prints do not smell fishy – the smell evaporates overnight as the print is drying.

In selecting the fish, Koike looks for a shape that is interesting or unusual. Wolf-eels, for example are not typical – all the rockfish are spiny and fish with large or prominent scales are interesting to print. “I tend to print the fish as they are in real life with accurate colors, but I also sometimes take artistic license. I like to show them interacting, avoiding predators; it’s very spontaneous.” Koike says it can also be a good tool for teaching young kids.

Most all of the pieces in the Aquarium exhibit, which will be on display for a year, are for sale, with a portion of the proceeds to benefit the Aquarium. On each print appears the seal or "han", which is the "Koike" name that translates to "Little Pond.”