CT+L Interview: Secrets of Guy Harvey and His Fish
CT+L Interview: Secrets of Guy Harvey and His Fish
Even if you’ve never heard of Guy Harvey, you probably know his fish-themed T-shirts, sported all over the Caribbean and beyond. The Jamaica-born Cayman Islands resident specializes in marine art — everything from small pen-and-inks of groupers to 300-foot murals of sharks — and knows the scientific names of all his salty subjects. But what else would you expect from a former university professor with a Ph.D. in marine biology? In his second career as a wildly successful artist, Harvey’s remarkably realistic images adorn canvas and even vinyl car wraps. We found the man himself at his George Town gallery to get his take on Cayman — and those ubiquitous T-shirts. Here are highlights of the CT+L interview with Guy Harvey.
Following the Fish
My family has been in Jamaica since the mid-1600s, and I’m 11th-generation Jamaican. We had a beach house in Bluefields, on the south coast, and I fished a great deal there. In fact, part of the reason my Ph.D. took longer to complete was that I would go fishing twice a week with my father. I moved to the Caymans in 1999 to be even closer to the ocean and my subject matter. It’s very inspirational. The island has preserved that niceness that people love. And it’s a more tranquil life than in a big city like Kingston, Jamaica. His Hemingway Connection My mother showed me The Old Man and the Sea when I was 11 or 12 years old, and it had a huge impact on me. But the edition had no illustrations, and I was itching to do something about it. So I illustrated the entire book, and ended up with 60 pen-and-ink images. At university, I used art to capture practical images of the animals we were studying. My Ph.D. dissertation included 100-plus illustrations of different species of fish and artisanal fishing techniques.
On Grand Cayman, nothing is far. Within half an hour of leaving my gallery, I can be 100 feet down on a wall dive or hooked up to a blue marlin. There aren’t many places in the world where you can do that. When visitors ask me where I go deep-sea fishing, I simply point to just beyond where the cruise ships are docked. They’re baffled because back home they may have to go 80 miles offshore.
My Newest Favorite Cayman Dive Site
The wreck of the ex-USS Kittiwake is at the northern end of Seven Mile Beach in 60 feet of clear water. And it’s great for snorkelers as well. The best shallow dive site is the original Stingray City on the northwest side of North Sound. It’s in 15 feet, with dozens of rays, big snappers, jacks, doctor fish and nurse sharks.
Seven Mile Sundays
The Governor’s Beach section of Seven Mile Beach is the least crowded. We take our dogs, chairs, coolers and a barbecue and go for a quick dive or fish, or play beach volleyball or Frisbee. The swimming’s awesome, and schools of bar jack and permit run up and down throughout. My Favorite Restaurants I love the variety on the menu at Calypso Grill, and always go for the mahi mahi, snapper or yellowfin tuna. Ragazzi does an awesome lobster penne. For Jamaican, it’s always Welly’s Cool Spot in George Town for great curried lobster and melt-in-your-mouth conch stew.
Eat More Lionfish
Lionfish are attractive — which is how they got to be the pest they are now, through the aquarium trade. By consuming them you’re getting them off the reef, where they’re a serious problem. They taste a bit like hogfish and are great done in a Caybrew beer batter.
On My Easel
Right now it’s Moveable Feast, a 4-by-5-foot painting of a blue marlin crashing on a school of small wahoo gathered under flotsam.
The T-shirts are an extension of my art; they’re my second canvas. I crossed the threshold from being an amateur to a professional artist with them, and since they launched back in 1987 they’ve become the backbone of my licensing business. We started with two dozen designs, but The Grand Slam and The Old Man and the Sea — the story I first depicted when I was 12 years old — have been stalwarts. As the business has grown, I have become acquainted with snook, tarpon, large-mouth bass, walleye … I had to put in a lot of fishing.
Designs in Demand
T-shirt art is very specific: 12 by 14 inches with a vertical orientation. Sharks are big and imposing but mostly monochromatic; they don’t sell. Game fish sell, and 95 percent of our shirts feature saltwater species. Even people who live inland aspire to catch marlin, tuna and mahi mahi; it’s all the action and the color. But I’ve also done some “dog” designs and have learned not to say, “That’s a great piece of art.” I let the public decide.
New Day, New Shirt
I’m often recognized by people wearing my T-shirts — and I wear them all the time. For fishing, I prefer to wear the technical shirts. In the daytime I might wear a golf shirt; in the evening, something woven with a collar. My wife asks me, “Don’t you ever wear anything else?”
The Power of Paint
With success comes responsibility, so we put money from T-shirt sales into marine research, education and outreach. You can’t take action unless you have influence or money — or both.
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