Riusuke Fukahori ‘Goldfish Salvation II’ – this exhibition is being held by ICN at The Brick Lane Gallery, 93-95 Sclater St, London E1 6HR until 21st Dec (click here for details). See more photos of the artist’s amazing work at Colossal. The artworks below are all impressions of goldfish painted in layers on resin to build up a 3D effect. You can see a video of this magical process, gradually perfected by Fukahori over the last 13 years, here.
Fifteen years ago, explains Riusuke Fukahori, he was beginning to lose confidence as an artist, and unsure which direction he should be heading in. As these thoughts were going around his head one day in his room, he heard the soft sound of air bubbles popping on the surface of the water in his goldfish bowl. Looking down into the bowl, he describes a ‘thunderbolt’ striking him, as he saw himself reflected as a goldfish. It was at this moment that he decided to devote his life to painting goldfish.
“If it were not for goldfish I would not be an artist. That’s how much I cherish them.”
Hence, the name of this current exhibition – Goldfish Salvation.
Fukahori had always been drawn to fish since childhood, but it was not until he created a 5 metre wooden sculpture of a fish as his graduation piece that he began to become conscious of his fascination. At this point, he had not yet developed the special connection with goldfish, this would come later. Almost twenty years ago, Fukahori made his first ‘fish in resin’ piece, although this was far removed from the pieces he creates today – it was the skeleton of a fish he’d eaten for dinner, preserved in resin.
Following Fukahori’s encounter with the goldfish in his room, he began to focus in on them and started experimenting with images of goldfish, painting them on tatami mats, clothing etc. In these early works the fish, he says, played the role of turning the object into water.
His first goldfish in resin soon appeared, although this was simply a single print of a fish inside resin – a single layer. This was not convincing. Fukahori had a container still half-full of resin.. what would happen, he wondered, if he tried painting on the resin inside the container?
So, he painted. And poured in more resin. And painted. Then he spent the next three years secretly experimenting with and refining this technique to see what he could create, how far he could take it, before announcing it.
The full details of the technique, in fact, he kept secret for eight years. It was only when a TV crew approached him, saying that people didn’t believe he had hand-painted the fish because they hadn’t seen it for themselves and thought it was impossible, that he was persuaded to allow them to film him at work through the whole process. The impact of this film was huge, and after becoming well-known and celebrated in Japan, a video of his process went viral, racking up over three and a half million views on YouTube.
Fukahori began to paint his goldfish inside traditional square, wooden sake cups. He says he likes these because they are instantly recognisable as being Japanese which enables him to express an important part of his identity, and they are also the perfect size to house goldfish – a life form which you can hold in the palm of your hand. He recalls hearing someone say that ‘the appreciation of beauty that fits in the palm of your hand’ is uniquely Japanese.
These wooden cups as containers are also ideal as it forces you to view the goldfish from above – the angle from which, he argues, they are best viewed. Goldfish were traditionally kept in wooden tubs in Japan, and were bred, he explains, to look good from above.
Fukahori doesn’t paint his goldfish from observation, or even from photographs. The goldfish he paints are all created in his imagination, picked form the library of images he has built up from endless observations of all the goldfish he has kept. He observes his goldfish every day, and when one of his beloved fish dies, he sketches them, and records detailed information about them: when it died, how it died, where he had bought it, he even counts and records the number of scales… In this way, he fills his mind with all these past goldfish and the ones he paints are an accumulation of those he holds in his memory. When he paints one of his imaginary fish, he also makes up a breed name for it, for example ‘Moonlight’. Fukahori enjoys playing around with this freedom of using his imagination to create his subjects. Realising that as goldfish have been bred for so long that they can essentially be viewed as ‘man-made’, he says this brings a freedom to allow him to develop his own creations. He could even add horns, he says, and could still call it a goldfish.
Recently, Fukahori has begun to use ceramics, bowls etc that he has used for years in his home and which have been broken – either when washing up, or the children have accidentally dropped and broken. In re-using the broken object as an abode for one of his fish, he feels that at the same time the fish is bringing the object back to life.
All of Fukahori’s pieces come with a hand-written letter in calligraphy from the artist to the new owner. In this letter he includes the name of the fish, a thank you to the new owner ‘for agreeing to look after my goldfish’ and instructions for looking after their new companion: ‘this fish doesn’t need any water or air, it just needs your love. Please take care of it’. For him, he explains, his goldfish are alive.
Finally, Fukahori muses on another quality that attracts him to the beauty of the humble goldfish. ‘When you look at a goldfish’, he says, ‘they are not flashy. It is only when you look closely that you begin to see that they are full of colours inside’.