Gyotaku: The Art of Capturing the Spirit of the Sea

For those of us who love fishing and nature, there is always a quest for self-improvement, for understanding the wild environment, for having the ability to surpass the animals we love through observation and replication of their behavior as predators.

This leads many to spend fortunes and invest a significant portion of their lifetime in pursuit of the dream catch, that fish that makes your hands tremble as you assemble your gear, just for the possibility of battling with it and seeing its colors finally emerge by your side.

Without delving into debates about catch and release philosophy or advocating for consuming the fish you’ve fought so hard for, there is something we all seek, something we all daydream about: the image of that catch finally in your hands.

Whether in photos or videos, there’s not a fisherman who doesn’t have their phone filled with their achievements (and those of their friends). Some go even further and want to immortalize their catch in a way that brings much more vivid memories and serves as decoration for their favorite spot in the house (or wherever they’re allowed!) with taxidermy pieces or resin replicas that may not always be everyone’s taste.

However, there’s another way to immortalize your best catches, and this is one that no one would want to hide on the best wall in the best spot in your house: Gyotaku.

Gyotaku: The Japanese Art of Immortalizing Your Catches on Rice Paper

Happy fisherman with the print of his catch. Print made by Adri Gyotaku

To understand the origin of this art, we have to look to Japan. There, a technique was developed to immortalize catches in great detail, creating authentic works of art that perfectly mimic the form and spirit of the fish.

I’ll save you from reading a lot about what Gyotaku is: you can watch this short video published by TED-Ed on this art, which summarizes its origin and practice very well:

My encounter with an Oceanographer and Gyotaku Artist

Adrià Bosch is a Spanish oceanographer who has found in Gyotaku a way to showcase the beauty and details of marine creatures, making them a part of home decor worldwide. He doesn’t overlook the educational aspect, allowing people to see in all their splendor and life-size the wonders of the oceans.

Despite having coincided in time during my time in Costa Rica, it was shortly after leaving the country that I found Adrià on social media. From the first moment, I was impressed with his prints, and fortunately, we connected. I was able to ask him some questions about Gyotaku, which I share with you below:

PlanetPesca: How did you start with Gyotaku?

Adrià: I started when I was doing my master’s, which was a two-year master’s in fisheries resource management. I was fortunate to go to Argentina to process samples in Puerto Madryn, in Patagonia, with a doctor. The thesis was about fish hormones, synchronizing what is seen organically with what is seen in sex hormones in the blood. Then COVID arrived, and my thesis was put on hold because I had to return to Mexico, but I wasn’t receiving results. As a hobby, I started doing this (Gyotaku). I asked my uncle, who is also a Gyotaku artist, what paper and ink he used, and well, I bought them and started.

I had started earlier with the thinnest Chinese paper, which is the worst you can use, but it teaches you to be careful: if you wet it too much, when you pulled the paper, it would all break, everything would stick to the paper. From there, I started being careful to make them look nice. I wanted to stay in Mexico and started with the little fish I found in fish markets that I liked. I framed them on a cactus wood and went to the La Paz Malecon (Baja California Sur – Mexico) to try to sell them. In the first restaurant I entered, which is like a beach bar, the man felt sorry for me. His niece was also a marine biologist and had three framed prints. He bought all three! He said, “for my bathroom,” and I thought, well, what a big bathroom you have, because they were three large prints.

Adrià Bosch – Gyotaku Artist

PlanetPesca: Part of the philosophy of Gyotaku is: Catch it, Print it, Eat it. Do you enjoy fishing?

PlanetPesca: What kind of materials do you use for the prints? Can the fish be eaten after applying the ink?

Adrià: It’s a common concern people have when you apply ink to a fish, but we use non-toxic, water-based inks. As soon as we finish, it’s cleaned thoroughly, and the fish can be eaten, including the skin.

PlanetPesca: If a fisherman wants to contact you to have a print of their catch, how should they handle the fish to give it to you in the best condition?

Adrià: They just need to bring it flat and on ice, so it doesn’t curve in the boat’s refrigerator. Once I have it, it’s cleaned, ink is applied, and the print is taken on rice paper, which is what you’ll take with you once it’s dry and I’ve painted the details, such as the eyes or the original fish’s colors.

The Legacy of Gyotaku

Rarely do I come across such pleasant surprises as discovering Gyotaku through Adrià Bosch. Undoubtedly, the Japanese origin of this art is evident, bringing the majesty of the oceans directly to the walls of our homes or workplaces, allowing us to observe it in a very different way than a photograph.

Adri Gyotaku’s original prints have that “something” that can’t be achieved otherwise. It’s as if, in addition to the shape and details of that fish, part of its spirit is also captured. Gyotaku evokes authentic sensations and emotions, even if you weren’t the one who caught that fish. The artist plays a significant role, not only making the print with the fish’s ink but also adding their vision through the colors and details painted on the original impression.

Adri Gyotaku’s works express a brutally honest nature, without unnecessary embellishments, reflecting the beauty and original power of the printed fish. From what I’ve learned about Adrià, this definition of his work could also define him, and that is conveyed in his prints, perpetuating the legacy of Gyotaku.

Certainly, this discovery has added a dream for me as a fisherman: I dream of the day I capture one of my favorite fish and can take it to Adrià to have a vivid memory of that day forever in my home.

Meanwhile, I’ll be choosing from the ones he already has available on his website, with impressive pieces like sailfish, mahi-mahi, wahoo, or the incredible oarfish. What’s your favorite?

Some of my favorite prints by Adri Gyotaku

Author: PlanetPesca

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