Florida Keys artist Dan Davis, who specializes in the ancient Japanese art of gyotaku, hopes his work will engender a greater ocean awareness and conservation mindset among viewers.
- By: Laura Myers
- January 27, 2021
Dan also educates art lovers about the need (and ways) to preserve local waters that are home to a huge array of game fish.
The Japanese art of fish printing is accomplished by covering the fish’s body with ink or paint, placing a piece of thin or rice paper over it, and rubbing the paper against the contours of the fish. Details such as an eye are often added by hand.
Dan attended New York City’s School of Visual Arts, where a Japanese foreign exchange student demonstrated gyotaku. The finished print, he said, reminded him of a fossil on paper.
After moving to the island chain, Dan honed his love of fishing. Frankie Albright, wife of the late famed celebrity guide Jimmy Albright, gave him his first Keys fishing pole.
In January 2000, Dan’s work was exhibited in the “Under the Sun Exhibition” at Key West’s Custom House Museum. Today, he’s expanding his creativity with large seascape originals, bigger gyotaku archival prints, artistic lamp shades and alabaster stone carvings. He plans to show his work and demonstrate gyotaku at upcoming outdoor art shows.
Keys Voices: When did you first come to the Florida Keys and why?
Dan Davis: In 1992. I was studying ceramics in New York City with a master potter, Ron Levy. Ron and his wife Beth asked me to move to the Florida Keys and set up a new pottery studio in Islamorada. Ron told me it was a beautiful place, with tropical birds and awesome diving and fishing. I immediately agreed. I spent my first night in Islamorada sleeping on the beach and saw the moon rise off the ocean. This was a memorable moment in my life. I knew I was in a magical and mysterious place.
KV: What aspects of the Keys environment or way of life matter most to you?
DD: The incredible marine ecosystem — from the brackish waters of Flamingo and Florida Bay to the patch and main reefs. Our reef, with nearby extensive sea grass meadows and vast mangrove forests, supports the base of the food chain and is one of the world’s most productive and complex ecosystems.
KV: Who or what inspired you to become passionate about respecting and protecting the Keys’ natural world?
DD: By far, the diving. My first trip to John Pennekamp State Park, with groves of colorful corals and abundant sea life, was very memorable. A truly amazing and special place. I really like snorkeling the patch reefs. My first time at Cheeca Rocks, a large seahorse floated by, his tail wrapped around a piece of turtle grass. I held out my hand and he wrapped his tail around my pinky finger. It was a special moment as we studied each other intently. I knew then I would never return to the big city life — this was now my new home.
KV: How does that passion influence your work?
DD: Artwork is really about starting a conversation. I talk about sea life with people. In 2016 my partner Lisa and I started Florida Keys Ocean Gallery, an online gallery to show not only my traditional gyotaku, but also a color series. Through my work, “A Decade of Impressions,” I can converse with others about great game fish and what we need to do to preserve our waters. The reality is we all need to be stewards of our environment.
KV: What keeps you energized and focused on your path?
DD: I am very aware of how our environment has drastically changed in the 28 years I have lived here. I want to preserve what we are so fortunate to have today.
KV: What do you hope your positive environmental actions will accomplish?
DD: I hope that my art will create a sense of ocean awareness and conservation. I also hope it will give me the opportunity to teach how to care for our waters and their inhabitants, so that we can continue to enjoy our beautiful sea life.
KV: What message do you want your actions and example to communicate to people you encounter?
DD: When you are visiting the Keys be gentle and be kind, for you are in a sacred place.