Adam Cohen and Ben Labay both work full-time as fish biologists in Austin, Texas. Since 2007 they have been collaborating in their spare time making unique fish (Gyotaku) and animal prints.
concept and process:
Gyotaku, which literally translates to “fish rubbing”, is a traditional Japanese art form that dates from the mid 1800’s. Traditionally an image of a fish is created by inking the specimen and then pressing it against rice paper to create an ink “impression” of the original. Although traditionally and most commonly practiced with fish, the art form itself, we believe, can be expanded far beyond fish. Here we break out of the traditional mold and experiment by applying the method to other animals using various media other than traditional inks and papers as well. Being most interested and knowledgeable about the Texas fish fauna we focus predominantly on Texas fish species. But we freely experiment with what we can do with other animals. In addition to scaled animals, we’ve developed methods to print bones, feathers and fur – revealing the internal as well as the external anatomy.
Our artistic process is continually evolving. We use various light-fast inks, clays, and acrylic paints to achieve what we believe to be interesting and beautiful artistic pieces that reflect the reality of the specimen from which the art is created. Sometimes animals appear to be in a natural position as if alive while others look to be freshly extracted from the pavement. Every piece is different and no strict rules apply to our methodology. Typically we post-process the raw image with a brush or pencil and add various degrees of detail or interest. Some images are digitally processed after that.
We are both conservation biologists working daily towards the long-term persistence of the populations of animals that we print. As such we have strong feelings about the ethical treatment and use of animals. With very few exceptions (occasionally fish and invertebrates) we do not kill animals specifically for use in our art and rather rely on animals found deceased in nature. In some cases we will accept specimens from permitted hunters, wildlife rehabilitators and exterminators so long as they have been collected via legal means. When appropriate, we donate specimens to museums for long-term curation and for use in scientific research.
Adam grew up in Houston, Texas poking around in ditches, collecting plants and animals for aquaria and backyard ponds. He developed a strong interest in biology and has since coupled that interest with a unique artistic style. Adam has lived in Austin, Texas since 1993 studying biology at the University of Texas at Austin and earning a Masters Degree studying fish in Cuatro Cienegas, Mexico. Adam currently works at the Texas Natural History Collections’ Ichthyology Collection in Austin working with Texas fishes and in his spare time pursues various artistic endeavors. He works mostly with colored pencil, but has branched out to various media such as insect collages, photography, painting and Gyotaku. Adam’s other work can be seen at www.AdamEspeleeCohen.com and www.Silverfish-Art.com.
Ben also grew up in the Houston vicinity with many opportunities to explore nature and fish with friends and family. His family has been fishing out of Galveston and Matagorda Bays with him since he was a toddler. Ben moved to Austin for college in 1999, and earned a Bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Texas at Austin in 2002. Not until returning from a 3 year sabbatical in Alaska did Ben discover the art of seining and decided to turn his focus to the study of fish and streams. He now has a masters in aquatic resources and works as a fish biologist at the University of Texas at Austin. Throughout his life Ben has explored art as a hobby through various mediums, but mostly through painting and drawing.