With their bodies based on Rodin sculptures and a kaleidoscope of marine life as companions, Lynda Zaleski’s ‘Ocean Opera’ series is an undersea dream.
Zaleski lives in historical Sailboat Bend in Ft. Lauderdale in a 1920s apartment building filled with art and artists. She works on boats, delivering super yachts to clients from Tahiti to Vancouver, and looks like the mermaids she paints – pale and sculpted with waving blond hair.
She seems to live and breathe between these two worlds. Her large scale mermaid paintings line the hallway of her building, vibrant and glowing with turtles and eels and starfish and sharks floating around the mythic sea sirens.
“My Ocean Opera series takes a romanticized view of marine life and the storied layers of legends that surround it,” she says. “An ongoing series of paintings that encapsulates the majesty of the vast ocean, incorporating nautical myths, while enhancing its enigma with fine art.”
“I have always been an artist, but I’ve enjoyed working as a crewmember for 20 years and over 80,000 miles on boats, at sea. This oceanic series is about discovery and making visible what is beautiful through art for both the viewer and myself.”
“My painting process provides adventure for me as an artist; much like the ocean itself and has a level of happenstance that dictates what to add and where to stop.”
Her technique is unique, borrowing from image transfer technology used by Robert Rauschenberg as well as images she sources online and digitally manipulates. It’s part collage, part transfer, part painting. She pulls from fashion photographers, Art Nouveau painters, and internet stars like Inky the Octopus who escaped from his New Zealand aquarium.
“To capture the seas incandescent nature, I use a unique mixed media technique that renders photo-realistic marine life in rich, vibrant colors and creates distressed painterly fields. The process produces an interesting surface, allowing the paintings to be seen as representational, yet existing in a timeworn state. While my technique is consistent in its inconsistency, the paintings include a variety of marine imagery, and are linked by recurring fine art images incorporated for the viewer to discover.”
“Featured imagery that drives the fantasy in this series in a departure from the representational seascapes they inhabit are mermaids. Direct influences on these mermaids conception that add significant elements of enduring merit are the statues by sculptors’ Auguste Clésinger and Auguste Rodin. During research and production, these fine art treasures lead to new areas of interest triggering memories that lead to the next painting’s elements of composition. As a result, this series references classic artist Arthur Rackham’s compositions and pays homage the lush excellence of Gustav Klimt. Presenting these re-imagined masterworks to the observer as newfangled glimpses on deep water myths.”
Adding to the mystique is the sheer size of the paintings – about 66 x 84 inches. This allows the viewer to get immersed in the image as some of the creatures are actually life size.
Zaleski says “Building upon what I know and enjoy about art and the sea is the physical size of The Ocean Operas Series. The paintings are intentionally large in scale, allowing viewers to include them in their physical space as a sense of the ocean in its enormity. Offering observers the experience of equating themselves against the scale and the human aspects hopefully setting their minds to wonder as they wander along through the paintings. With Ocean Opera Series, I am inviting viewers along on a continuing personal journey; to marry the world of art with the oceans larger than life legends and limitless beauty.”
She has collected the images in a book called Fanta Seas where she tells a sweet story about a beloved necklace she had made with a silver octopus charm and a Tahitian black pearl but lost it at sea. She adorns the mermaids with it, fantasizing that it has been found by them and they wear it as they dream, protected by sharks and electric eels.
“The ocean will come to you like a secret wish granted,” she writes “the creatures and life in the ocean are one.”
Other mermaids are based on fairy tales such as the Little Mermaid from the Hans Christian Andersen storybook who was able to go from sea to land and beguile a Prince.
Then there is Lola, the mischievous siren who lures sailors to their love-starved death and knocks surfers off their boards for fun. She combs her hair with seashell combs and crosses the ocean by holding on to whale tails. Lately though Lola has been “deep-sixed”, perhaps lamenting the mischief of her youth or just weary of her watery games.
Another striking image Zaleski has been experimenting with is a sly, sexy sailor boy, cigarette dangling from his pursed lips. She exhibited one in Art Frenzie Gallery, a Wilton Manors gallery where he flew off the shelves, so she has been painting more of him.
“He is based on a real boy,” she says, digging his picture out of her overflowing inspiration box. “He was such an enigmatic looking guy and both men and women really respond to him. Some of my gay friends said I was pandering but honestly I just found him really interesting and love that he has a story behind his sly eyes.”
It’s heady stuff and even Zaleski’s riverfront neighborhood is filled with stories and creatures. There’s a park across the street with Whippet statues and an aviary filled with rainbow colored Finches and chattering Cockatiels.
She shares her images and stories on cards and canvas printed tote bags as well. She is reluctant to sell the Ocean Opera series except as whole, preferring to keep the mermaids all together.
“They’re really special to me, they are my life and my art in one so I want them exhibited and kept together,” she says wistfully.
More about the artist’s current work: lyndazee.wix.com
The Dreaming Mermaids of Lynda Zaleski