It’s not a painting of a shark.
It’s a painting of my experience with that
James Prosek has been called “the Audubon of the fishing world” by The New York Times, and “the best artist of this era” by the literary critic Harold Bloom. Prosek has traveled the globe in pursuit of his subject matter.
The artist’s love of nature is manifested in this series in his life-size watercolors of Atlantic Ocean fishes that he observed on fishing vessels around the world from Nova Scotia to Cape Verde Islands off West Africa.
“Prosek’s work is about nature’s incessant creativity, pushing and pulling always to make something new. We can never understand nature’s aesthetics, but Prosek is always thinking about it,” wrote Briant T. Allen, National Review’s art critic.
Some of his imagery derives from the documentary traditions of 18th and 19th century explorer/ naturalist/artists like Linnaeus, Maria Sibylla Merian, Darwin and Audubon who attempted to impose order on the bewildering chaos of nature.
Prosek’s life-size Shortfin Mako Shark, painted from a specimen from Montauk, NY on tea- stained paper, dramatically showcases his mastery of this European tradition of representation, as well as, in the details, the influence of the miniature tradition of India and China.
Each fish is painted life-size based on a single specimen that Prosek traveled to see—they are meant to be portraits of individuals, not images to represent an entire species. Fascinated by the dramatic shifts of sheen and coloration that telegraphed the animal’s visceral reaction to being captured or pursued, the artist managed to portray their variegated skin tones in a combination of materials.
Prosek’s work has been shown at The Royal Academy of Arts in London, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, The North Carolina Museum of Art, The Yale University Art Gallery, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The New York Historical Society Museum, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among other institutions.