IT IS BEFORE DAWN ON THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA. AS I MEANDER ALONG THE ROCKY SHORE, WINTER LIGHT WASHES THE SEASCAPE IN A LUMINOUS HUSHED BLUE, LEAVING THE IMPRESSION THAT I AM WALKING BENEATH THE SURFACE OF THE WATER ITSELF. THERE IS A SUBTLE EXCITEMENT IN THESE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING AND IN THE CURIOUS AIR OF AN AWAKENING SHORE.
Black rocks are painted slick by the ebbing tide as the sea retreats to itself once more. This twice-daily rhythm reveals treasures that hint at a world of deep mystery. I curl low to the shore, and in this before-sunrise stillness there is a soft effervescent crackling. Symphonic stones moving and creaking—the sound of barnacles moving around in their shells. Strewn across the shore are olive bundles of kelp left by the tide, a field of pungent grandeur. This essence from the depths is so intoxicating.
This is the world that dazzles me and inspires my work, this life beneath the waves.
The reach of this enchantment spans back as long as I can remember. Years of combing the tide, holding viridian strands of kelp up to the sky, with the ornate patterns within the fronds, patterns that replicate the very surface texture of the water where they grow. In holding them up to the sun, light gleams through, golden rays altering each blade to a vivid florid green.
"In your work I can taste the magic of undersea. You are in touch with the beauty of the world’s wildness alive in all things and people, the endless non-linear patterns of existence. You create a tangible sense of intimacy with the vast and mysterious powers of sea and animals"
This same method repeats itself as I move from beach to boat, in Alaska’s Bristol Bay on my fiancés fishing boat. Again surrounded by the enormous inspiration of the sea, this time I’m a part of its fabric. I rise and fall with the tide, in complete rhythm with every effect of the storm or with the sea’s stillness. We move with the fish. We pick the nets clean, bright salmon in a myriad of vibrant colors, with their sleek form and texture. Extravagant scale patterning adorns their skin. Iridized, holographic, supernatural coloring. Each fish skin tells a story.
“In your work I can taste the magic of undersea. You are in touch with the beauty of the world’s wildness alive in all things and people, the endless non-linear patterns of existence. You create a tangible sense of intimacy with the vast and mysterious powers of sea and animals. Thank you for sharing with us.”
– Dan Tucker, exhibition attendee
There is profound gratitude for these fish in cultures and among individuals who live their years in rhythm with the salmon returns. Each fish that comes on board our boat is a gift and while I don’t always get to show my deserved appreciation to every individual, I do try to honor them by preserving their story.
There is so much that can be read from fish skin. The way the scales are arranged in rows or patterns is different for each type of salmon. There is a pronounced band that runs along the length of a fish known as the lateral line. This line, which can be observed in my sculptures, detects vibrations and pressure in the water, similar to the way an ear does in air. Salmon use this line primarily to discern distance and water flow, helping them navigate when it is too dark or muddy to see.
I cure the skin onboard and at the end of each season I bring it home to sculpt into masks and lanterns. Some of my lanterns feature gashes, the result of the foiled pursuits of a seal.
An exploratory process led me to sculpting with salmon skin and kelp. When there is a closure, I spend it on the back deck skinning salmon. I cure the skin onboard and at the end of each season I bring it home to sculpt into masks and lanterns. Some of my lanterns feature gashes, the result of the foiled pursuits of a seal. The gentle gradation of color that fades from the dorsal of each fish to its belly can be the striking framework of a mask.
Artist Cristina Maria Melito’s Website Here.