Artist | Spear Fisherman | Chef
It is not uncommon for everyday practices, for colloquial activities, to take on an elevated, artistic significance in one’s life. Art often emerges from the mastering of a technique or the ritualistic repetition of a daily practice.
Gyotaku, the Japanese printmaking technique which gained popularity in the 19th century, is an example of this transformation. The word translates to “fish printing” which indeed describes the process by which Japanese fishermen historically documented their daily catch — they’d apply ink to the fresh fish scales, lay a soft porous cloth or washi paper atop the fish and methodically rub its form into the substrate. Carefully peeling the paper away, the fisherman was left with an imprint of his catch.
Though poetic in and of itself, this process begets further introspection. How is it that this fish was procured? The ritual and patience involved with the catch, the care and consideration paid to its documentation. The gyotaku calls to mind these questions, stamping a sense of time and place in ink.
In speaking with Chris Duperreault, an experienced free diver, spearfisher, chef, and longtime friend to Authorne’s Rachel Bu, one comes to appreciate the complexity of the gyotaku process and the individual approach embraced by its practitioners: “When I practice gyotaku I use [traditional Sumi art] materials and methods. I love how connected I am with nature when creating my pieces. The paper is made from kozo and hemp. My brush is made from animal hair. My ink is from soot. My glue is made from wheat and my sealer from gelatin. Nature gives you everything you need to make beautiful art.”
"Nature gives you everything you need to make beautiful art.”
After shifting to a homeschool education in middle school, the sea became an outlet and an escape from the anxieties of adolescence for Chris. He began exploring the Bermuda Reef, evolving past traditional reel fishing to spearfishing and freediving, a practice that opened new depths, both literal and figurative. “There was something about exploring underwater and diving into the unknown that drove me to this. What I originally thought would be a weekend hobby turned into a full-blown addiction. I had no idea the impact it was going to have on my life.”
“There was something about exploring underwater and diving into the unknown..."
In pursuit of his passion, Chris pushed beyond the boundaries of his anxiety, finding like minded enthusiasts and cultivating a profound sense of self-worth and confidence. “I applied that mindset to gyotaku after seeing fish prints for the first time. This new confidence carried over, helping me show my work and encouraging me to feel comfortable with the vulnerabilities an artist experiences when displaying the process of learning their art form.”
In 2022, Rachel Bu approached Chris with the challenge of pursuing an octopus to print through his gyotaku art practice. “I searched for a long time looking for the perfect [octopus] subject for Authorne. I searched at home in Bermuda and again I searched Alaskan kelp forests. Yet, instead of finding the perfect tentacled subject, I was confronted by a massive sea lion who stood firm on his dominance of what no doubt were his hunting grounds. Finally, I went to Hawaii where I found octopus in their perfect environment.”
This process, physical and demanding, also marked a metaphorical milestone for Chris, who came to a realization unbeknownst to him until this moment:
“I always knew octopus were mollusks, but I never understood how a mollusk might exist without a shell. We could spot them by seeing them peeking their eyes out of small holes in the clean lava reef just as conchs peek beyond their shells.” This sparked in Chris a synergy, a recognition: “They adapt to the environment and leverage their surroundings as their version of a shell. Observing this made me realize one doesn’t truly understand something until you see it thriving in its perfect environment.”
The octopus is often seen camouflaged on the ocean floor, making a conscious decision to remain out of sight or to emerge and seek its next destination — or hunt its prey. Chris reflects: “In a way this reminds me of my former self most of the time I didn’t want to be seen. I just wanted to observe and learn what was around me.”
“I didn’t want to be seen. I just wanted to observe and learn what was around me.”
Ultimately, the metaphor of the sea — its primal qualities, its tidal rhythms, its subtlety and simultaneous strength — shed light on the closed-loop of nature and the primal, primeval realities of survival. “Spearfishing isn’t a profession for me but is the foundation that solidifies everything I do into one…Observing how someone handles their patience when [spearing or hunting], the respect they have with death if something is taken, and how they perform in a dangerous situation tells you everything you need to know. This is a primitive way to sum someone up but it hasn't steered me wrong. It also has helped me with self reflection over the years and how I can improve on myself.”
"Spearfishing isn’t a profession for me but is the foundation that solidifies everything I do into one…"
Finally, Chris reflects on the dichotomies that make up his own life and how he came to be the man he is, "There are plenty of other contrast in my life like the contrast of spearfishing on Bermuda's reef and hunting in the rolling hills of the Texas hill country. I’ve been hunting since 16 when my family got property in Texas and I love having grown up with that contrast of island life and the wild Texas lifestyle."
In acknowledging the lessons of the sea — moderation and temperance, tenacity and perseverance, sustainability and sequence — the art of living becomes all the more real.