Perfect scale

MOST fishermen post their prize catch on Facebook or Instagram, but Deryck Tan goes one better and immortalises his catch using an ancient Japanese art form.

Gyotaku involves spreading ink on fish to create delicate prints, and was originally used by Japanese fishermen to document their catch in the mid 1800s.

Tan is a veterinarian specialising in equine dentistry and surgery, but at the weekend the 50-year-old becomes an action man – freediving to spear potential artworks.

“Best results are obtained with fresh specimens but it is also possible to print thawed out ones,” he says.

“The subject is washed multiple times and towel dried, then an ink such as sumi ink or acrylic is applied to the subject. 

“The excess is dabbed off and a canvas such as rice paper or cotton is placed over the subject and the ink is rubbed in. Details such as eyes are added after the process.”

Fish are Tan’s main subjects, but he has also printed prawns, marron, crabs, squid, cuttlefish, octopus and lobster.

“The lobster is the most challenging due to the cylindrical body shape, needle-sharp spikes, superimposed legs and antennae, hairy feet, and tucked away swimmerets.”

As a child Tan was fascinated with all things fishy and read a section about gyotaku in the 1976 book The Lore Of Sportfishing.

Forty years later the memory bubbled up from his subconscious and kickstarted a new hobby. 

“About four years ago I caught my first dhufish off my kayak and wanted to immortalise it,” he says. 

“Back in the recesses of my mind I remembered something about printing a fish, so I did my first print with food dye and a large sheet of green paper. 

“Some years later I visited my hometown Kuching in Malaysia, and chanced upon the same book and discovered that the idea had always been in my mind.”

Tan, who is inspired by gyotaku masters like Naoki Hayashi in Hawaii and Dwight Hwang in the US, moved to Perth in 2007 and says Fremantle is one of his favourite hunting grounds for snapper, skippy, king george whiting and squid.

“My subjects are either caught by myself or supplied by friends or clients who want to immortalise their prized catch with a gyotaku print.”

Tan is one of several artists on show at the Staircase Gallery in the National Hotel, Fremantle (basically the four flights of stairs leading to the rooftop bar).

“The exhibition space is very unique, it occupies the central staircase and landing areas…and potentially opens up the art experience to a whole new audience because of the relaxed nature of a gallery inside a hotel,” says Staircase manager Teresa Fernandez.

The collection is on show for the next two months.

BY STEPHEN POLLOCK

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