The Spirit of a Shark
Richard Ellis's epic SHARK Exhibition at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which opened last May, has shown again the power of art to move people, and I am deeply pleased and grateful that my own shark story, along with four paintings, was included.
I began to paint sharks when I first encountered shark finning in 1994, when a ship full of shark fins docked in the port of Papeete. As a result of that experience, I went looking for sharks, tried to get to know them as animals and individuals, and began painting them as a way of encouraging others to appreciate and protect them.
What struck me spellbound about them from the first, was the way they would come and look. Those moments when a shark came to gaze straight back from just inches away stretched out for a very long time, and were nothing like the moments of eye-contact shared with other people or mammals. Sharks are different.
The shark's gaze conveys a spirit of considerable power which I tried repeatedly to capture in my paintings.
This rendering of Emma, the beloved elderly lady tiger shark of Tiger Beach in the Bahamas is an example. I was taken to see her by Jim Abernethy, who is a kindred spirit in shark appreciation and protection. The powerful bond between Jim and Emma was clear to see as she swam up to him repeatedly to be stroked, and opened her mouth so he could check her latest hook wound—he had removed more than three hooks from her mouth during their ten year friendship. Her trusting and familiar behaviour with him was unexpected in a fourteen foot tiger shark, and illustrated the strength of the human-to-shark bond that the two shared.
It was the first such bond I had seen subsequent to the companionships I developed with the Tahitian sharks during my quest to know them, which I shared in my book, “My Sunset Rendezvous : Crisis in Tahiti,” after nearly the entire community was finned.