By Dale J. Evers
The most famous artists and designers often become known for one particular style or motif. When we see the cubism of Pablo Picasso or the drip paintings of Jackson Pollack, for example, we firmly link those distinctive artistic “moves” with the artists themselves. In some cases, those associations are extremely positive and add to the artist’s or designer’s mystique and prestige – certainly the case with Picasso and Pollack.
For other artists who are less famous, however, an identifiable mode of expression can lead to confinement, predictability and, in some cases, a needless limitation of vision and creative possibilities.
Since I began my career in the early 1980s, I’ve focused on capturing aquatic life forms in mixed-media sculptures to such an extent that my name is associated with the genre – although I’m certainly no Picasso. Indeed, in the years I’ve been active, there have been so many sculptures, statues and paintings depicting whales, dolphins and fish that the genre I love has become something of a cliché.
So many consumers love such images that a vast number of enterprising artists have stepped in to meet the demand. The problem is that so many of these efforts are uninspired and lack any real creativity or are, in some cases, just plain bad.
In my case, simply being identified with such an overexposed genre has challenged me to push my work to a higher level as a means of creating distinction – not just for me as the artist, but also (and especially) for clients who love marine imagery and want it to be presented in ways that make sophisticated statements. In this effort, I think, I have more than a little in common with watershapers who work at the leading edge.
THE DOLPHIN INVASION
As a result of this art-market reality, rising above the tide of mediocrity has become a defining challenge of my career. It has forced and inspired me to stretch the genre and elevate my work in ways that not only lend it distinction, but also capture more fully the beauty of nature I’ve wanted to portray since I started down this path more than two decades ago.
As is true of many (if not all) artists, I’ve chosen to work with subjects that relate to my own experiences. I believe that conveying the essence of an image or a figure requires a deep understanding of the subject and a passionate need to express that understanding in communicative, expressive and even emotional ways.
In my case, I’m an aquaphile in the extreme, and the ocean in particular has always been a big part of my life. Since I was a kid growing up in San Diego, Calif., most of my recreational time has involved marine-related activities including swimming, playing water polo and working as a lifeguard. My tour of duty in the U.S. Army carried me to service in the Hawaiian Islands and Micronesia and further deepened my aquatic fixation. I’ve spent countless hours time surfing, diving and wielding fairly amazing underwater camera equipment.
|The key to effective use of dolphins as the subject of sculpture is to reach beyond the clichés and find details that fully represent their strength, speed and dynamism (and, if the opportunity arises, place them underwater). In this way, I treat them with respect – and provide my clients with distinctive, naturalistic artworks that capture the awesome grace of these animals.|
I still live by the ocean, now further north in California in beautiful Morro Bay, and continue to draw daily inspiration from a lifestyle centered on the sea. My wife and kids share the same passions: All are certified divers, and we’ve traveled the world experiencing a range of extraordinarily diverse marine environments.
In the course of spending countless hours in and around wild water, I’ve had scores of close encounters with every imaginable sort of sea creature. I’m continuously amazed by the diversity of marine life, its stunning beauty and the survival dramas that take place unseen by all but those who intrude into what is for humans an entirely foreign space.
Despite the fact that we humans are land animals, the world of marine life resonates forcefully with a great many of us. For whatever reason – scientific, emotional or spiritual – sea creatures are of almost universal interest and the demand for art depicting them runs broad and deep.
What I do in my art is therefore simple: I create tight linkages between my clients and the creatures, settings and experiences they’ve irresistibly come to love. What distinguishes my work, I hope, is the passion I bring to the subject matter and the ways in which I make my compositions reflect and express my actual experiences in oceans blue.
INTO THE DEEP
My art career began, suitably enough, in Hawaii on the island of Maui. At that time, interest in aquatic and marine art was exploding and I found myself in the right business at the right time. From the start, however, I was faced with the need to differentiate my work among other (often far less expensive) products that were in many cases being created by craftspeople who had never seen their subjects in the wild.
As I see it, there’s an essential link between extreme experience and the extreme execution of art. For artists who immerse themselves in the deep and swim among oceangoing leviathans, those experiences are among the most memorable they’ll ever have. In my case, creating works of art that examine and celebrate my experiences and those life forms is the perfect extension of some of my most cherished memories.
One of the things you hear a lot from artists who work in the marine/aquatic genre is that their aim is to create an “awareness about the environment” and possibly “spark a more enlightened society” that will want to preserve our oceans, lakes and rivers and the species that rely on healthy bodies of water.
To me, that’s hype and gibberish. Yes, environmental awareness is a good and noble thing. Yes, as an enthusiast about all things oceanic, I’ve been involved in my share of environmental causes. But to suggest that the creation of sculptures featuring aquatic animals will somehow change the world? Frankly, it makes me think less of my fellow artists who promote their work using this notion.
I do believe there’s a tendency to over-sentimentalize this sort of artwork – a tendency I resist with all my strength. To me, the art is dignified by nature, not the other way around: If people have a love of marine animals, they may well have a taste for this type of artwork; if they don’t, it’s highly unlikely that viewing a bronze statue of Flipper or a set of whale flukes is going to alter their points of view.
Another growing point of distinction in my work is the fact that I’ve moved beyond being a gallery artist. This wasn’t a move made lightly, given the fact that I’ve produced and sold more than 18,000 works of art through that channel and have built a significant audience through the years.
The fact is, I’ve become utterly captivated by the potential I see in directly associating my work with watershapes and landscapes in the great outdoors. While this shift has presented me with a significant list of challenges that has changed my approach to art, it has also given me a whole new set of ways to express my passion for marine life and – the key point – opened me to direct, interactive relationships with my clients and the settings they offer me.
One outcome of this change is that a great many of my pieces have become significantly larger by virtue of the fact that they are being installed in grander outdoor spaces. And because of the great variety of subjects I explore, there are lots of opportunities to find combinations of subjects that work well in landscapes and particularly well in conjunction with some type of fountain, pond, stream or pool.
Beyond my basic sense of artistic evolution, I see the concept of participating in the creation of watershapes and landscapes as a perfect way to stretch myself and extend my reach beyond the stuffier world of galleries and art exhibitions.
In that realm, artists must live with the thought that their pieces will be sold to patrons they rarely meet or know; that they have little idea how the work will be displayed or where it will be placed; and that they will never get any helpful feedback or commentary from those who choose to spend their hard-earned money on a piece of art.
|There are so many spectacular life forms under the ocean’s surface that I know I will spend the rest of my life finding unique and interesting ways to tell their stories. It’s important to me to get the details right – a knowledge that comes from many, many hours spent observing these creatures in their natural habitats.|
In that sense, working within the gallery system is all about trying to imagine what someone else might like and creating something accordingly. For me, that was increasing a tough row to hoe.
In transitioning to sculptures to be used with various types of watershapes and/or in assorted landscapes, I found my work changing in focus simply by virtue of the fact that I was designing in response to a specific client and a certain setting with a predetermined budget.
I also found myself being energized through my contacts with other designers, including architects, landscape architects and designers, watershape contractors and interior designers. I am reveling as well in the fact that each project is completely different from the rest because the cues come not just from within me, but also (and mainly) from the clients and the requirements of the settings.
In my work, I spend a lot of time thinking through combinations of available media and assorted techniques for using them.
My sculptures consist of various combinations of fused, molded and slumped glass that I produce in my studio in Tijuana, Mexico; a spectrum of metals including cast and fabricated bronze, iron, stainless steel and more; and approaches that encompass everything from welding to water-jet-cutting and molding. I also use a range of finishing and texturing strategies too diverse to describe here.
One of the byproducts of moving along such a broad spectrum of options is that I am able to provide architectural materials that can be used not only in direct conjunction with an art piece, but also in other locations throughout the setting. I’ve created special glass panels for walls, gates, doors and windows, for example, as well as particular architectural details in metal that echo materials used in the sculptures themselves.
When it comes to watershapes, I don’t design the systems myself, but I do work directly with the architect or watershaper to choose materials and overall design schemes that harmonize with the artwork. In this way, any work I do is more fully integrated into its setting and becomes a visual part of it.
Cheezy bronze sculptures of dolphins and whales will always be with us, but by moving into the garden and working with clients and other designers, the value of creating authentic marine figures increases. The work I do expresses not only the forms of these animals, but also conveys a sense of motion. That’s the key for many of my clients – this sense that there’s a story behind the work. And I’ve been fortunate so far to work with professionals and clients who are able to see that clear and important distinction.
The stories are there deliberately. When I became interested in insects, for example, I spent a great deal of time observing butterflies and dragonflies. I probably looked like a lunatic, laying by the water for hours, staring at passing insects. But the time I invested in observation, in understanding the species I wanted to render, is what fills my creations with nuance, subtlety and a sense of story that fills the art with motion, authenticity and excitement. Once again, obsessive behavior pays off.
If it’s not clear yet, allow me to state plainly that I love the effect this new outdoor focus has had on my work.
In the case of a dragonfly, for instance, it struck me that the perfect context for the creature was the tip of a cattail – a tableau showing the insect in a natural posture as it moves through its world. On the one hand, this is the product of my observation of nature. On the other, it comes from working with clients who express ideas about what they want and where the work will be located – factors that cannot possibly be anticipated or envisioned without their participation.
|In recent years, I’ve found myself applying observational skills developed under the water to dry land situations and translating these observations into sculptures of dragonflies, butterflies and other insects. All of them have unique qualities that tend to go unappreciated in casual viewing: It’s an oversight I seek to correct by making large-scale impressions.|
By combining my own powers of observation and experience with the ideas and settings offered by clients, what might otherwise be a hackneyed image of a dolphin has the potential to take on greater and much more personal meaning. It speaks to a memory or an emotion and draws a great deal from that background.
Through the years, I’ve worked hard to establish a name – a “brand,” if you will – and that means something, too. It’s fun being recognized for creating really cool marine art, and it has turned out to be a terrific way to make a living.
Ultimately, however, it’s good for me to be near water and engaged in projects where it plays a role in transferring artistic impressions to clients and their families and friends. I’m proud to say that I capture the essence of my subjects, and enormously satisfied when I am able to help people appreciate the aquatic world just as I do.
Dale J. Evers is a sculptor based in Morro Bay, Calif. Focusing almost exclusively now on works that depict various forms of marine life, he studied art at California State Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo and at San Diego State University. By his own account, however, he was educated in the arts mainly by his parents, both artists in their own right. During his 25-year career, he has created and sold thousands of original works to a range of residential clients including a host of celebrities as well as to commercial clients including the U.S. Olympic Committee. He has been given awards by The American Oceans Campaign in recognition of his contributions to the marine-life genre, and his work has been featured in galleries around the world.