Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Eye of the Artist: Whale Shines by Fiona Robinson

Once upon a tide...

A whale came by with a message:


Curated by Mr. Jackson Pollock

Drifting quietly at the bottom of the sea, the creatures of the deep are suddenly electrified with the idea of taking part in an art show. Cuttlefish and Squid get busy producing ink for Octopus, who has a brush in all eight hands. Eel shimmies and squiggles along the bottom, creating a lovely, limpid sand painting on the sea floor.

Hammerhead shapes heroic sculptures from found objects from the many shipwrecks he swims through. Not to be outdone, Wrasse throws herself into creating colorful coral sculptures. Everyone is busy, except for Whale.

"I wish I could make something, but I'm just an advertisement," said Whale.

"Why don't you try?" said a chorus of small voices.

"Plankton, is that
you?" asked Whale.

Whale swims toward the tiny voices and discovers that every motion of his flukes set off an explosion of light. These plankton are bioluminescent, and every swish of his tail set off a small explosion of blue-green light in the dark water. It's lovely, but somehow the beauty that the plankton so effortlessly create leaves Whale feeling even more blue.

Whale finally feels the urge to take a breath and breaches high at the surface, and when he does, he notices the sky, moonlit and glowing with millions of stars. He's never noticed how beautiful the sky looks in the clear air.

"Such a shame the other creatures never get to see what I see, " he said.

The starry night reminds Whale of the glowing plankton below, and suddenly he realizes that he can show his friends what a starry, starry night really looks like. With his flukes as a brush, he can create a living painting, one that recreates the world above in moving, glowing light.

In her latest,  Whale Shines: An Artistic Tale (Abrams, 2013), Fiona Robinson's blue-green palette and double-page spreads show the azure ocean above and the gold-brown sea bottom below, populated by a varied bunch of deep sea denizens, all busy getting their artwork ready for the show, all except for the dark, brooding hulk of Whale.

In contrast, when he surfaces into the starlit world above the water line, Whale leaps with delight in a splash of bright foam. With the theme of the outcast, unable to do what the rest of the crowd are up to, Robinson gives her left-behind behemoth the role of the artist who sees what others cannot see and finds the medium to share it with them in a satisfying conclusion that reprises Van Gogh's Starry, Starry Night.

In its starred review, Publishers Weekly calls this one "a standout: up-to-the-minute modern in its irreverence and offhandedness, yet timeless in its understanding of a character’s yearning."

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