Art exhibit reels in visitors hook, line and sinker

For many, a fish is a symbol of renewal, peace, nourishment and spirituality. As an artistic homage, the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park is hosting 50 Artists 50 Fish, a show that brings together talents in painting, sculpture, photography, filmmaking, ceramics, metal, design and jewelry. Located in the Inamori Pavilion, the exhibition displays a stunning variety of representations of the fish on 2-foot by 2-foot tiles by local artists.

PACIFIC recently chatted with Richard Keely, curator of 50 Artists 50 Fish and associate professor of art at SDSU, to find out about the show, which runs through July 15.

What was the inspiration for the exhibition?

RICHARD KEELY: They asked me to curate a show at the pavilion, and I realized it wasn’t an art gallery, so there were some limitations. But I also really liked the building itself, and looking down at the koi in the water outside, your gaze is down. I thought about artists making a fish, but how we would look down in the same way.

What is the significance of the fish for you and the artists?

For the Japanese, of course it is full of symbolism. For me it was a taking-off point. As an artist myself, I told the others it was wide open. There are so many possibilities, and the fish are right outside the door.

Tell us about a few must-see pieces.

There are a lot of standouts; everyone invested a lot. Jason Sherry went to the grocery and made fish out of biscuits — it’s funny and spectacular. Adam Man made a two-by-two cube out of goldfish crackers. Christine Deekman found a tilapia skeleton and made a stop-motion animation; the QR code is in a scientific jar with leftover parts of the fish and it takes you to the video. Some are even four- to five-feet tall.

PACIFIC then caught up with one of the featured 50 artists, Lynn Susholtz, executive director of Art Produce and Stone Paper Scissors in San Diego to find out about her contribution to the show.

What was the inspiration for your piece, Carrotwood Fish?

LYNN SUSHOLTZ: I knew I wanted to use wood, one of the things I love about Japanese aesthetic is the natural materials used to show the best of what they are. They are revealed in the structure, it’s not covered up with stucco and manmade materials.

The personal connection is I lived with that Carrotwood tree for 30 years. Burning it was a way to still use the natural form, and as a resource, it can become fire. It is one of the first elements we lose in natural disasters, and it accelerates other natural issues and climate issues. The silver flounder I cast from a real fish in 1974 when I first did metal work.

You talk about the dream state in your artist statement. Is Surrealism an influence?

Yes, I’ve been influenced by the Surrealist aesthetic in my informal education growing up around the development of film, museums and architecture in Houston. And I do a lot of problem solving while I’m asleep. You pull things together you might not in a conscious state. It can add an unexpected connection and perspective that can lead you in a whole new direction and allow for new insight. 

What does the fish mean to you?

It is rich with symbolism. It’s impossible to not consider the Japanese tradition of fish prints, woodblock and the koi pond in the landscape. It has been part of humanity forever, they feed us spiritually, physically and metaphorically. They are in the writings of every mythology and spiritual tradition.

50 Artists 50 Fish runs until July 15. For a full list of artists visit niwa.org/exhibits-list/50-50. The Inamori Pavilion is located at the Japanese Friendship Garden at 2215 Pan American Road in Balboa Park.

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