Fighter – Mermaid Art and Japanese Fighting Fish

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Mermaids in Art

There have been many depictions of mermaids in art throughout history, whether that’s in traditional art, in song, in storytelling, or in films. A mermaid is said to be an aquatic creature with the torso of a human female and the tail of a fish. It is said that the goddess, Atargatis, turned herself into a mermaid in shame when she accidentally killed her human lover.

Mermaid mythology has roots in the siren mythology, although traditionally sirens are seen with musical instruments or as half bird creatures. But sirens seem to take a back seat to mermaids these days. For some reason, these strange powerful creatures have captured artists’ imagination for many years, from Waterhouse to Disney. 

John Waterhouse - The Mermaid (1930)

Accidental Ariel

For me growing up, The Little Mermaid was my Disney film of choice – I wanted to be a singer for many years, so belting out Part of Your World while swooshing around wrapped in a piece of silk I’d found in my mum’s sewing box was a favourite pastime for many years. She was also the only ginger Disney princess and she was fierce and subversive, which I admired… for a part of the film, at least. I’m the first to admit that the messaging in the Little Mermaid is problematic, to say the least. Change everything about what makes you unique and leave your family for a man and he might just marry you – it doesn’t sound like a healthy rule to live by. But then, it was the 80s and all messaging was in a similar vein – rebellious girl gets saved by handsome gentleman, usually older, and settles down to a heteronormative relationship in which she gives up her hopes and dreams to enable her man’s. I still love the Disney princess films and roll my eyes at them at the same time. 

When I started out painting Fighter, it didn’t occur to me that the colours I was using were almost identical to Disney’s animated classic, The Little Mermaid.

Fighter / Disney's Ariel Mermaid Comparison

I don’t dislike the similarity. It wasn’t my intention at the start,but maybe this could be the alternative Ariel – not the Ariel who kills herself over heartache in the original fairytale, or the Ariel who gave up who she was for the love of a human man, but the Ariel who took control of her destiny, stayed a mermaid and became fierce for real.

All Our Different Battles

I intentionally created a sense of vulnerability in my painting, Fighter. The positioning of my subject’s arms across her body give the impression that she feels slightly unsafe and is trying to cover herself. It’s a reminder that not all battles are fought by great warriors – that there is strength in empathy and power in emotional intelligence. Some wars are fought on battlefields with gunfire, some fights are done in rings, but cerebral battles are hidden from view and mental health issues are often seen as a sign of weakness, when in actual fact, mental health can be a daily battle.

Mermaids are usually thought of as creatures of great power, and my mermaid painting, Galene’s Kiss, has a kind of overwhelming calm feel.

Galene's Kiss - Mermaid Art

In Fighter, I wanted to create a feeling of inertia, rather than calm. A moment’s pause before battle commences.

Japanese Fighting Fish

I’ve always had a fascination with Japanese fighters. When I was little, we had all kinds of animals in and around the tiny house I grew up in, but I really loved the marine and tropical fishtanks, spending hours testing the PH to make sure the water was just right. And we had Japanese fighting fish that would swirl around the tank with unfathomable beauty – I would watch them elegantly prance around each other, almost like they were dancing. Years later, I discovered that they should never have been in the same tank together, but they seemed to mostly keep to their own sides of the tank. And then occasionally one would come dangerously close to the invisible barrier and there would be a tremendous standoff.

Japanese fighting fish look to me like something dreamt up in a fantasy novel. They’re bright, aetherial creatures, huge, delicate looking fins billowing around them. So they fit perfectly with the aesthetic of the piece – beautiful, mystical and deadly. As with all my work, it’s entirely up to you as to whether this mermaid is trapped in the eye of this fish storm or whether the fighters are a representation of inner turmoil.

Purchasing and Prints

The original mermaid painting, Fighter, is available in my shop and you can also get your mitts on prints, merchandise and downloads. Saatchi is your best bet for luxury canvas and framed prints, whereas Redbubble absolutely nail merchandise like clothing, stationery and home decor, as well as more budget prints and greetings cards. You can also download hi-res, print ready versions of this piece from the shop and make your own prints in as many formats as you like.

The original painting is available on the website.

It’s also available in all kinds of printing formats and across all clothing and home decor products on Redbubble.

Luxury framed or canvas prints are available from Saatchi.