Artist David Delamare and His Many Many Mermaids

So artist David Delamare is kind of a big deal, mermaid-painting-wise, and you’ve probably seen one of his mermaid masterpieces whether you know it or not. At least in your dreams or drunken wanderings (or here). I mean look:

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He’s got tattooed mirror-holding mermaids hanging out on rocks, and steampunk Marie Antoinette mermaids sitting on metal horses

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and streamy-haired mermaids hanging out around bathyspheres for possibly nefarious purposes

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and poker-playing mermaids about to cheat pirates out of valuable loot

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and well coiffed mermaids pressed against seahorses in questionable manners

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and plenty more mermaids besides, many of which you can gaze upon in this glittering gallery.

Obviously, I had to ask David some questions at some point, lest I be remiss in my mermaid duties and leave this blog somehow eternally incomplete. Our enticing Q and A follows.

When did you start painting mermaids? What was the first inspiration?
The first mermaid I painted was for ready money, nothing more. She was part of a very fanciful wooden sign for a restaurant called Buttertoes. At the time I had no idea that this seemingly simple sea creature would ultimately provide so many interesting conceptual and compositional possibilities.

How has your mermaid art evolved over the years?
My mermaid art has changed dramatically because my approach to making paintings is so different. For many years I painted using an air brush for areas of continuous tone (both on the figures and in the backgrounds) then added details using a traditional brush with water-based paint. Several years ago, I switched to the most traditional of media—oil brush on canvas. Using a brush rather than a spray gives the areas of continuous tone a much more organic and less mechanical effect. With oil painting, I start with a layer of opaque paint which will become the shadows and continuous tone, then glaze over this with transparent washes. The result is that the light bounces off of lighter areas while being absorbed by darker ones. This creates a depth and luminosity that my earlier paintings couldn’t have. You can’t see this in the photographs of the art. It’s really only visible when looking at the originals. If you’re curious about how the individual elements of the paintings are added, you might view the progressive slideshow on You Tube of my Alice painting titled “Beware The Jabberwock.” There are also some progressive albums on my Facebook page.

Has your idea of them changed at all—over time and/or as a result of mermaids’ increasing popularity, etc.?
At first, my narratives were influenced by Greek mythology or the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Later, my interpretations become more personal, primarily driven by the desire to create more complex and interesting compositions, settings, and features. I experimented, of course, with different anatomical elements such as gills, fin shapes, and scale styles. Then, in the last ten or twelve years I began interpreting the writings of my partner and publisher Wendy Ice, who has written a field guide describing a mermaid world of her own invention. We occasionally have late night discussions about the symbolic or metaphorical significance of the mermaid, usually taking a fairly psychological approach having to do with the conflicted (divided) self or the division of the conscious and unconscious.

Can you talk about what continues to inspire you? How/why do mermaids continue to interest you?
Artistic genius never stops inspiring me. Painting, music, live theater, film, and literature are all favorites. If I find myself at a temporary impasse, certain artists never fail to jump-start me. Reliable touchstones include Mozart, Django Reinhardt, Orson Welles, Harold Pinter, Caravaggio and Monty Python. Mermaids continue to interest me because their conceptual elasticity is endlessly encouraging as a source of engagement.

What’s the most challenging part of painting them?
The challenging part is to keep reinventing them so that they remain vital.

Do you have an interest in or fascination with mermaids outside of your art? Are you, for example, interested at all in mermaid culture and/or have a particular love of the sea?
Wendy and I have both carefully avoided reading any contemporary writings about mermaids because we don’t want to be consciously or subconsciously influenced by the material. Also, we don’t want to feel as though we can’t use an interesting idea just because someone else happened to use it. The odd result is that we’ve been creatively immersed in the subject matter for many years but are almost completely ignorant about how it has been handled by others in the last century. For the same reason, we know next to nothing about contemporary mermaid imagery. Like anyone else, we occasionally stumble upon a mermaid painting online, but we don’t go looking for them. (The downside of this approach is we miss out on what is likely a wide variety of interesting literature and imagery.)

Can you share with us one of your favorite mermaid paintings you’ve done—and why?
My favorites are the most recent. I particularly like a newer series that we’re calling the “Victorian Mermaids.” It features Victorian carnival portraits that depict a caste of mermaids described in Wendy’s writing. In these images mermaids are posing as humans posing as mermaids. I like the fact that they have a psychological quality about them, akin to something found in traditional oil portraiture.

And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Beware of the undertow and always bathe in moonlight.

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