Utopian Reefscapes

 I create artwork inspired by locations specific to each project, my previous series include glacier melting in Iceland and deforestation and illegal logging in the Brazilian Amazon. Currently I’m creating a series of coral reef paintings, showing their beauty and diversity we’re losing through global warming and coral bleaching.

50% of the world's coral reefs have already been destroyed, and another 40% are expected to disappear in the next 20 years due to warming oceans, pollution, overfishing, and habitat destruction. By 2100 coral reefs might cease to exist. That means that your children will know no more about corals than they do about dinosaurs. Coral reefs will become history and slowly sink into oblivion.

This is why I called this series of paintings “Utopian Reefscapes”. I imagine a diver of the future seeing nothing but dead monochromatic ocean bottom, deprived of color, texture and movement. I feel it’s my duty to convey the mesmerizing underwater world while it lasts. Instead of meticulously documenting particular images I took while diving, I paint the ocean of abundance, where corals of all shapes and colors thrive creating a world where one can’t tell reality from fiction, photographic reference from a symbol. These paintings show the garden of Eden if it was underwater.

 I got my PADI license only last year, and before the quarantine started I went to the Red Sea in Egypt to explore the wonders of underwater world and collect material for my paintings. Since I was only a beginner diver, learning underwater photography was very challenging. There’re so many logistics I had to think at once-for example, mastering buoyancy and curbing the excitement, trying to breathe calmer so the air lasts longer. The first time the photos came out nuclear green because I didn’t set the white balance properly, the second batch was good colors but blurry because there was a strong current and I felt like shooting from a moving car, but with every dive the photos improved.

An interesting thing is that with depth colors fade away in the rainbow order. Reds disappear first, followed by orange, yellow, etc. and the last color left is an almost fluorescent blue. If you dive below 10 meters, then you see the reality around you in different shades of blue, and you don’t know what color the objects are until you look at the photos back on the surface (you have to set the white balance to obtain the correct colors).

I love that second when the veil of the sea lifts and reveals the mysterious and magical universe. One thing was clear to me from the beginning-the underwater world is incredibly fascinating, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It felt like exploring a new planet, with alien life, colors, textures and shapes. From that moment I knew this was all I ever wanted to paint.

 Coral reefs provide biodiversity, coastal protection from erosion and storms, sand (every grain of sand used to be a living animal or plant), and economic benefits. They also present spiritual value for many coastal cultures.

Most corals grow less than an inch per year, and the reefs we see today are hundreds, thousands of years in the making. Once destroyed, the regeneration can take a very long time.

 Approximately 5% percent of the ocean has been discovered, leaving 95% unexplored. How can we care so little about the underwater world when it covers 70% of our planet? We are just guests on this Earth. Very demanding guests, with horrible manners, who keep talking about themselves while never stopping to listen or ask questions. I’m hopeful my Utopian Reefscapes will inspire in viewers a curiosity, awe, joy, and sense of shared responsibility for our beautiful, fragile planet.

Watch a short video about my artistic process creating coral reefs paintings  and the dangers corals are facing.

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