Fascination with fish

Fascination with Fish

I have been on a voyage of discovery this month and it’s all about fish. My research into the historical meaning of fish has been intriguing.

The Chinese word encompasses a meaning for abundance and affluence. Native Americans consider it to mean long life and wisdom, and it is also the symbol, in a stylised form, for Christianity. It also appears that fish are abundantly represented in all sorts of art forms and have been for many thousands of years:

Fish Magic by Paul Klee 1925

Fish Magic by Paul Klee 1925

 

Fish paintings Antoni Tanari Pesci, 1610-30

Fish painting Antoni Tanari Pesci, 1610-30

 

Fish of the living 3rd century, National Roman Museum

Fish of the living 3rd century, National Roman Museum

 

Fish images Ancient Egypt 1422-1411 BC

Fish images from Ancient Egypt 1422-1411 BC

I recently celebrated a birthday and close friends gave me a beautiful carved wooden fish. They said that they thought I may have enough fish – my simple answer was no. I certainly have collected many fish over the years and all of them are special for different reasons. Collected locally and overseas, in metal, glass, porcelain and timber, I value them very highly.

I think I have been drawn to fish since I was young, and I think it began because as a child I liked the pike fish images which appeared on all Pike’s Brewery labels  – I collected the new, unused ones in a scrap book. I knew it represented my family and I knew the story behind it.

Original Pike beer label

Original Pike beer label

These days you will know it because the pike fish appears on the beer and wine labels from Pikes Wines of Clare Valley, and it also appears as our stylised Pike fish hallmark on all of our hand-made jewellery. Below is an extreme close up of what the hallmark looks like when it has been stamped into the inside of a beautiful hand made PIKE ring:

Hallmark inside ring

Also, I really loved it when my dad used to sometimes take me fishing at The Coorong in SA. He knew some members of the Potts family from Langhorne Creek who had access to a shack in a very out-of-the-way location on a private property on the banks of the Coorong.

There was a large galvanised iron shed housing the boat and nets and a smaller one where we stayed.  The shed in which we slept was very cramped and the conditions were very basic. The sleeping quarters which were divided by a hessian curtain contained some bunks and the living section housed a wood stove for cooking and heating, a wooden table and some odd chairs. Pure luxury! Out the back was a canvas-clad, cold water, gravity fed shower, only to be outdone by a toilet ‘hole’ further out in the open that you needed to take a shovel to use. Use it, fill it in and dig a new one for the next person was the method. These completed the amenities and needless to say the females of my family were not too keen!

Dad and I always seemed to arrive at night – the entrance was down an old sand track with ‘black grass’ down the centre (black grass is a tall rigid dense beach grass with spikes and seed heads) and I would wake up to the sound of grass  drumming against the bottom of the car and know we were there. When I married Helen in the ’70s, I contemplated us spending our honeymoon there. At that point, I had not been back there for more than ten years, and when I described the rough conditions to her she was not in favour. Instead we chose Kangaroo Island, which in the end wasn’t much better, but at least the beach flat my employer owned offered a shower and toilet inside, a TV and a double bed. I was assured years later that we had made the right choice because nothing at the Coorong had been improved, and in retrospect it wouldn’t have been a nice experience to subject a new bride to.

In those early years at the Coorong, my father and I fished from the boat and the taste of freshly filleted Coorong mullet, cooked on an open fire, sprinkled with salt and lemon, is an experience I will never forget. We also used the boat to cross the Coorong and walked across the sand hills to the ocean where we would collect cockles. After soaking in water first to expel the sand, these cooked in fresh salt water from the ocean and doused in vinegar or lemon is another amazing taste sensation. I have always loved seafood of all sorts.

Looking around me here at home, fish are dominant.

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I’m not obsessed, and I don’t like all things fish inspired, but I do like our collection and the fact that it began with some family history and has grown is testament to my love of the search for that special piece.

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As part of our collection and in close proximity to my desk is a grid of eight separate metal fish in individual frames and created by a South Australian artist from old flattened galvanised iron. We purchased these on a holiday on Eyre Peninsula:

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A carved wooden fish that Matthew and Nadine brought back from their honeymoon in 2004 sits on the wall behind me:

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and another group of five wall fish – three wooden ones formed out of articulated sections, a bronze fish I carved and cast on Kangaroo Island, and a beautiful glazed porcelain fish from Orvieto in Italy, are just a few of my treasured pieces:

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Fish also inspired me when I attended a workshop coordinated by the Design Institute of Australia here in Adelaide. It was a day with Khai Liew, the well-known South Australian furniture designer. As part of his brief, he wanted all attendees to form groups of four and announced that we should develop a proposal for designing interiors and surrounds for a coastal French Chateau owned by an English aristocrat. The owner wanted a secure location for the installation of his art works, and was going to make it available to friends and acquaintances as a private hotel. It was a hypothetical brief of course, even though the place and person existed and we decided, as it had views of the sea, to dedicate the story boards to the fish and colours of the ocean.

It didn’t take long to plan out the interiors including furnishings and fabrics, all using soft pastel sea colours creating a sense of calm. The interior and exterior finishes were all to possess natural textural qualities, some of them portraying the weathered and slightly distressed feel, but not without style. We hypothetically developed the concept of paint finishes, which contained ground fish scales and pearl shells, we formulated fabrics which included fibres from sea grasses, and designed huge glass urns filled with coloured beach sands, forming lamp bases, table supports etc.  We proposed sandwiching shell fragments and scales into resin surfaces and polished concrete forming bench tops, table tops and vanities complete with bronze fish taps. Fish handles for all cabinets, doors, windows and curtain hooks added to the look and light fixtures, balustrades and some furnishings showed subtle fish influences, but not in a way that overstated the theme.

The owner’s art works were believed to be a mixture of contemporary and classic and all colours and finishes were chosen to form a muted palette, so the art works were the main feature. We also developed a concept for an entire security system based on securing all forms of art works without taking away the guests enjoyment of the collections.

Our team won the prize for the day and I remember writing to Khai and mentioning that it would be fun to contact the owner and present our plans. It didn’t ever happen, but we had such fun dreaming of the possibilities.

Fish themes have also worked their way into my jewellery designs and it is exciting to develop concepts which, even if we’re never commissioned to make them, are fun to develop. They are also very personal to me:

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If you love the shapes and opportunities of design that fish offer as much as I do, I would love to talk about making a beautiful piece of jewellery for you. Come and see me at the studio workshop, call me on 08 8338 3109, or email me at hello@pike.com.au.

Until next month take care.

Love Nicholas X

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