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Beneath the Surface

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WaterShapes LogotypeEric Herman

One of the perks of my job as Editor of WaterShapes is that from time to time I get to go on the road to see truly great work in person, often in stunning locations. Occasionally, however, when I walk on site my best expectations are blasted to smithereens.

I had one such rude awakening a couple years back, when I visited a home with a brand-new, highly elaborate swimming pool. We were in a beautiful area of northern California, the home was both expensive and gorgeous and I was primed for a good time – but the watershape out back was one of the most misdirected monstrosities I’d ever seen.

It was a bells-and-whistles extravaganza, with extensive artificial rockwork, a large grotto, a stone bridge, a lazy-river effect, multiple knife-edge weirs emerging from rock faces, a volleyball court, tile mosaics and sculptures. But everything was “off” to one degree or another: The rockwork was too much, the bridge was clunky, the lazy river didn’t work and the whole composition was surrounded by fake grass.

In the right hands, in the right setting and with the right client, any and all of these elements might have worked together, but not here. And the very worst of it from my perspective was the cheesiness of the sculptures: The mirror-image dolphins rising awkwardly from the water’s surface were about as unnatural and un-lifelike as they could possibly be.

It was all so bad as to be laughable – except that the homeowner had paid a huge sum for the whole shebang and seemed quite proud of it. And then we came to the big question: Would I be publishing the project in WaterShapes? Suffice it to say I had a few awkward moments swallowing my true opinion – but lived to tell the tale.

As bad as so many things were, those dolphins have always stuck in my mind – so much so, in fact, that every time I’ve seen marine-inspired art since then, I’ve pretty much looked the other way. Is there anything more cliché in the world of watershaping than sappy images of fish, seashells and dolphins? There may be some fun in their designs, but artistry, subtlety and sophistication? Rare, I’d say.

But recently, my appreciation for representations of dolphins and other marine life underwent a significant change for the better through the persuasive persistence of an artist named Dale Evers, a lifetime aquaphile and talented sculptor of all things oceanic. I visited his studio in June and was startled by just how beautiful figures of whales, fish, aquatic plants and even dolphins can be when shaped by the hands of a fine artist.

What had seemed so hackneyed elsewhere rises in his capable hands to the level of high art, dignifying aquatic subject matter without sentimentalizing it. (For a sampling of his work, click here.)

My fresh look into the potential of the marine-art genre is a powerful lesson in the capacity of art to change minds, drive appreciation into even the hardest hearts and uplift any observer’s spirits. That’s what it took to rid my mind of the tragic dolphins that long ago had jaundiced my perception of an entire artistic genre – a new look I’ve been happy to take.

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