08 April 2009

Something fishy about this...

Here we are at Semana Santa again. I don't know how that can be for it was just Christmas the other day. The seasons are rolling around all too quickly as I get older. I wonder why that it. When I watch an hour glass (or a three minute egg timer glass) it also seems like the sand runs out much faster at the end. Oh, Lord, please tell me it ain't so. I really do look forward to the next life but the thing is that I am just so used to life here that I am reluctant to make the change abruptly. When I sat down at my computer today I happened to glance over at the wall and my eyes rested on a painting that I did some years ago on a Holy Thursday. Usually on Holy Thursday we make the rounds to seven churches as is the tradition here but that usually isn't until the late afternoon and early evening when the heat of the day has passed. I was living all alone at the time and I decided to spend the day trying out a style of painting that I had read about called “Gyotaku” (ghee-oh-TAH-koo).

Gyotaku is the Japanese art of fish painting. It is really more of taking impressions of a fish than it is actually painting a fish but you have to paint the fish with paint before you take the impression. Got that? The word “gyo” means “fish” in Japanese and “taku” means “rubbing” or “impression”. The earliest known Gyotaku prints were made in the 1860’s to preserve a true record of the size and species of fish caught by wealth Japanese sport fisherman so they could have bragging rights and win bets. It was kind of like the “polaroid” picture of its day. Before I took the impression of the fish, however, I had to have a fish so I set off to find a fish market with just the right fish. Finding the right fish took almost as much time as the rest of the project. Fish markets are very busy places on Holy Thursday and many, many people were out buying fish to have for their Holy Thursday evening meal. Like me, many of them were looking for a fish called a “huachinango” (wah-chee-NAHN-goh) which was also the favorite fish of Emperor Moctezuma. I went to six or seven markets before I spotted the fish I wanted at the fish counter of our local Soriana supermarket.

I stood in line hopping from one foot to another like someone needing to pee and praying that nobody would choose my fish before I got to the head of the line. I even asked my faithful guardian angel (Bubba) to put a “hold” on that fish for me. Everything went well until it was my turn and I blurted out “huachinango” and the man grabbed another fish and got ready to stick it with his long skinny knife. I told him “No not that one...the other one” and after dancing around like this through two or three fish he grabbed the right one and almost before I could stop him he got ready to remove the scales. “NO!”, I shouted, and everyone jumped back. Evidently they thought I was crazy. I told him to wrap it up just the way it was and he did so with a wild look in his eyes and I just kept quiet. After all, he was the one with the knife. I triumphantly paid for the fish, clasped it to my bosom, and home I went.

When I got the fish home I dabbed at it a bit trying to remove any slime and dry it off as much as I could. Then I put it on a piece of cardboard and propped up the fins with straight pins and put a toothpick in its mouth to hold the mouth open and I put the fish in the sun for a half an hour to stiffen it up a little. That worked just fine. Then I removed the pins and covered the fish with paint and pressed a sheet of paper to the fish and when I removed the paper there is was...a perfect image of the fish. It reminded me of the reward that Veronica received when wiping the face of Christ with her veil. The only problem was that the paint didn't stick to the fish's eye so there was nothing there but a blank area. I noticed that the fish's eye was about the same size as a Mexican Peso coin so I used a two peso coin to draw an outline and then a one peso coin inside that so that it formed both the pupil and the outer ring of the eye at the same time. Then I painted the eye to look as natural as I could. The effect was very pleasing.

Afterward, feeling very proud of myself I began feeling remorse for what I had done to the poor fish. I hated the thought that the fish had lived and died in vain. It still looked pretty good and it didn't smell bad so I decided to cook it and eat it. I filleted it and skinned it and dipped it in milk and then dredged it in flour and fried it with some potatoes and onions. It was the best fish I ever ate and afterward I had the feeling that the fish was inside my head looking out at his own picture. Ever since that day the fish has been a part of me in every respect and I am part fish. Believe it or not I even swim better now. I am one with the fish.



Steve Cotton said...

Quite a tale. Very finny.

1st Mate said...

Isn't huachinango the same as red snapper? That's my favorite fish.

Your fish didn't die in vain, you immortalized it! And what do the Japanese characters in the lower right corner mean, is that your signature? What kind of paint and paper did you use? Did you do just the one print? Buen hecho!

CancunCanuck said...

Love this post, great story, great piece of art. Thanks for a good read! Poor fishy didn't die in vain, he was dinner and he is now immortalized forever, how many fish get their portrait done in Mexico?

Bob Mrotek said...

Gracias amigos,

Bliss, the characters are Chinese. The top one is "da" which means "big" and the bottom one is "ma" which means "horse". That was the name that my classmates gave me when I studied Mandarin Chinese at the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, CA when I was in the Air Force in the 60's. I just used it on the painting for fun to make it look oriental. The paper is from a block of watercolor paper and the paint is just water based acrylic house paint that was leftover from something and sitting in can out back. Actually I did several prints using several colors but this one turned out the best. You should try this. It is easy and fun. Someday I intend to do some more...maybe :)

Babs said...

Very cool - you are truly a Renaissance Man!

Alfredo said...

¡Güau! ¡Qué bonito! Encantadora historia. ¿Se puede hacer con otros animales? ¿Qué tipo de pintura se usa? You must teach Martha Steward to do this, she will be thrilled!

YayaOrchid said...

Wow! An artist and a poet! Who knew? LOL!

Seriously, that is a great painting! Are you trying to compete with Gloria? :)

Bob Mrotek said...

I tried to paint the neighbor's cat like this but it wouldn't hold still.

No I am not in competition with Gloria. Nobody can compete with Gloria. She is special and one of a kind :)

glorv1 said...

Yah, right Bob, sure sure sure.:))) Wow, that is very impressive. I've heard about that type of painting and its effects. So you actually dipped the fish in paint and them put it on the paper? That was a job well done Bob and you deserve a standing ovation for that.::clap::clap::clap::clap::
Yay for bob.
Seriously, I'm jealous. That is really a good job. Thx for sharing.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.