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It's all a matter of scale



60cms (W) x 80cms (H)

Oil on Canvas

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In 2022 I picked up some Chinese watercolors and some paper and started painting fish. These proved quite popular and most of them sold very quickly. Some of the attraction linked to the aesthetic (fish that were in high-movement/action poses were more attractive than more static forms), but most of it seemed to be cultural. For example, the red and gold fish sold as soon as I posted them as a friend of mine wanted to gift to a friend for a housewarming. Red is a lucky color in China, while gold represented wealth and prosperity. Several people mentioned that paintings containing 9 fish are particularly lucky, and I discovered that there is essentially a mini-class of artwork that show nine koi fish of various colors and configurations usually containing lotus flowers. This composition has an abundance of symbolic meaning for people in China (and as far as I can tell, Japan), though it is a little difficult to determine exactly what the meanings are.

Lotus flowers are a prominent motif in Chinese culture, art, and landscape gardening - as are the roots which are commonly eaten in Chinese cuisine. These flowers usually symbolise wealth, prosperity and calmness.  For the fish themselves, I can't find a definitive explanation of what the fish symbolise. However, there is a common belief that a painting of 9 fish on your wall will bring you prosperity, luck and fortune.

Given that this is a common subject for artists, I tried to adopt my own take on it. The style is a mixture of western, chinese and japanese. The lotus flowers I have painted in a muted, simple, ink style which is reminiscent of chinese ink paintings. The fish are more of a realistic western style (similar to the fish paintings that started me down this particular road). The blue/green pattern in the bottom half of the piece are based on japanese tesselations. This section is meant to represent both water and the scales of a fish. Originally I thought about giving them a ceramic style texture to reflect blue/white japanese porcelain, however after trying this in a couple of the scales I decided it would make the image too complex when paired with the fish themselves.

For the composition of the fish, these are arranged so as to suggest they are leaping out of the water to give the painting a kind of flow, however they're also painted as from above as usually the fish will be observed from above as in a pond.

I chose a variety of colors for the fish. This was largely for aesthetic reasons. The muted lotus at the top contrasted with the strong blue and green of the water (usually in Chinese/japanese paintings the water is a transparency and only really hinted at), so this needed to be balanced with some color throughout the painting, with bluer and darker fish at the top, and lighter color fish to contrast with the heavy blue at the bottom.

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