“Skull Harbor” 14”x16” acrylic on canvas.
I have a small collection of various octopus figurines made of plastic, glass, and rubber. A few of them have crept into the background of some of my paintings. The realistic one can be seen behind King Kong and its tentacles are curling into view beside the Creature from the Black Lagoon. There’s something so alien about the shape, movement, texture, and intelligence of octopuses (or octopi) that I’m totally fascinated by them.
Last month my family and I were in Plymouth, MA, where I’ve gone every summer my whole life. We went to one of the many kitschy gift shops on the waterfront and I found a basket full of these weird red rubber octopuses. They were straight out of the 80’s and had to have been sitting there in that store for the last 30 years untouched, no kid would have wanted one of these oddly designed creatures.
With that purchase I knew it was going to make it into the next painting along with the rest of the collection. As I started getting the octopuses together, I found a couple of rubber sharks, and remembered the countless times I had my parents buy me the same rubber shark toy souvenir year after year. It also reminded me of a restaurant we used go to in Plymouth called Souza’s Seafood.
Souza’s was the quintessential old school seaside restaurant. The ceiling was covered in a huge fishing net full of plastic lobsters, crabs, starfish, fish, shells, buoys, etc. it even had the huge tank full of lobsters at the entrance from which you could choose your dinner. As a kid it was magical. It was a place SpongeBob would have worked.
When I was thinking of a way to set up this array of fake sea creatures I was originally thinking I’d set them up in the sand at the beach but it didn’t feel right. There’s something inherently creepy about the ocean beneath the piers, docks, and jetties of the waterfront. You know there’s a ton of life down there on the bottom, the water is murky, at low tide you can see the bottom, and at high you know just how far over your head the water would be.
I was about to clean my fish tank when it dawned on me that it had just the right murkiness to hit that sweet spot for me. It’s a combination of creepy and silly. Like the fish tank in Pee-Wee’s playhouse plus the tale of Davy Jones’ locker.
So here it is. It was more challenging than I expected, but overall I’m satisfied. I hope you like it.
Notes: My 9 year old son Will came up with the perfect title. And the lobster is a fridge magnet souvenir that I stuck to the side of the tank. I’ve had that aquarium skull since I was fifteen, but didn’t get a fish tank until I was 30.