Interview With Dr. Guy Harvey
Dr. Guy Harvey is a self-made artist, an accomplished marine scientist who is heavily involved in conservation efforts, as well as a successful business owner. His brand has become widely recognized throughout the country, and indeed in far-flung destinations around the world. Now, in a partnership with Gainesville Coins, Guy Harvey’s original artwork will appear on silver bullion and silver collectibles for the first time. We sat down with the man--or, more aptly, the Guy--himself to learn a bit more about ocean life and the artist behind the brand.
Not enough people are aware of your comprehensive education in marine biology. You received your B.A. from Aberdeen University in Marine Biology and your Ph.D. from the University of the West Indies in Fisheries Management. With your extensive background in marine science, and the realism of your art, do you ever think of your art portfolio as a sort of scientific catalog of aquatic animal life?
I have never quite heard it phrased like that but all of my paintings do come from first-hand experiences and interactions that I have had on and under the water, so in that sense I am documenting images that have actually occurred in nature. When I was working on the thesis for my Ph.D. I did all of the sketches and drawings myself and did all of the images for the “Fishes of the Open Ocean’ textbook so there is definitely scientific merit to most of my artwork.
How would you describe your artistic style? Do you think you fit into any specific group or genre? Why did you choose this style? Is there a specific artist or genre that inspired your artwork? Does your favorite painting (or paintings) among your own work demonstrate this style, or do you believe it stands apart stylistically?
I would not say that my artwork falls into a specific style or genre, I just try to paint animals and scenes as authentic and biologically accurate as possible. This also stems from my scientific background. While I have been influenced by a number of other artists, my good friend a sculptor Kent Ullberg has taught me a lot about how to translate what I see into a work of art.
You frequently choose marlin and dorado as subject matter for your paintings. Are one of these two fish your favorite? Do you even have a favorite fish? Why are these your favorite?
My favorite fish is the blue marlin. Its speed and power is almost unmatched in the ocean and the fight that they provide an angler is spectacular. I was also enthralled by Hemmingway’s “Old Man and the Sea” when I was younger so the blue marlin always captivated me.
When did you first get the feeling that you had “made it” as an artist?
Unfortunately I do not believe that I have ever felt like I have “made it”. I am truly blessed to have developed the fan base that I have over the years and because of their unbelievable support I am able to pursue my true passion in life.
The Old Man and the Sea painting
by Guy Harvey
Many of us are familiar with Hemingway and “The Old Man and the Sea.” What specifically about this masterpiece of American literature inspired you in your work, both artistically and scientifically? Have your feelings about this evolved over time?
Quite simply, “The Old Man and the Sea” is the ultimate fishing story. One man, alone at sea, fighting a massive fish, on a hand-line, no less. The fish pushes the old man, Santiago, to his limits and he has the ultimate respect for this fish and appreciates the sacrifice. I have been fortunate enough to meet Hemingway’s boat captain that the inspiration for “Old Man and the Sea”, which makes me appreciate the story even more.
Not only are you famous for your paintings of fish, but you are also known for your techniques in photographing and filming aquatic life. Can you tell us a little bit about how you get such great quality shots of marine wildlife? What was your favorite animal to film or photograph?
I am able to get such great footage because I am lucky enough to be able to go to some of the most remote places in the world where the natural habitat is still mostly intact. Once you know where the wildlife is then you have to be ready to literally dive in with them. Filming every animal is different but I feel like my fan base has the biggest reaction to the bigger marine animals such as billfish and sharks.
Of course, diving is almost a requirement in undersea studies, but aside from studying animals, what has been your best diving experience with marine wildlife?
I would have to say one of my most memorable diving experiences was the Grouper Moon film that we recently did. There is a small Nassau grouper spawning aggregation near Little Cayman that we have been monitoring and actually persuaded the Cayman government to protect. It is truly amazing to watch nature’s reproduction cycle at work and I was grateful to be able to capture some of this footage in real time.
Other than fish, do you have a fondness for other marine life? What in particular, and why?
I certainly appreciate all of the wildlife out in the ocean and do paint a lot of it. Turtles are some of my favorites and I appreciate the intelligence of dolphins and whales. I also enjoy watching and painting sea birds, like frigates and cormorants. Every animal has a role out there and I enjoy all of them.
As we are situated in Florida, it seems appropriate to ask: what is your favorite Florida-native aquatic life and what, in your opinion, is the best place to observe Florida’s diverse marine life?
You are correct that Florida does have a great diversity in its wildlife. From fishing for redfish on the west coast to the awesome sailfish fishery on the east coast to the great bass fishing inland, Florida has something for everyone. I think the best place is down in the Keys, where you can find a little bit of everything.
Our line of work sometimes involves writing about sunken treasures and ships. Just out of curiousity, do you find that some animals are particularly fond of sunken treasures or boats, or are commonly seen at these sites?
Absolutely! Sunken boats are some of the best artificial reefs around. Most species of reef fish are attracted to reefs because of the protection that the structure provides. Grouper, snapper, amberjacks, they all make their homes around structure and can be found on sunken ships. The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation has funded the sinking of decommissioned ships to create more habitat for fish. Wish I could speak more about sunken treasure, though!
It seems as though there are always new, exciting discoveries in deep sea research. What would you say is the most intriguing news from deep sea research?
It is amazing that there is still so much that we do not know about the deep sea. We know more about outer space than this area of our own planet! We are hearing a bit now about the oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill that is resting on the sea floor so there may be huge implications from that. But the prospects of sea life down there offer the possibilities of everything from medical benefits and renewable energy sources. It is fascinating.
Most of us can recall the suspenseful film Jaws, which may arouse fears or nightmares of sharks for some of us. Is there any animal under the sea that inspires that kind of nightmarish fear in you? If not, is there any creature that you find particularly unsettling, or just gross?
I would not say nightmarish but I do have a healthy respect for swordfish. While we are conducting research or filming a documentary, I am regularly in the water with big tiger sharks, makos, and marlin and take the precautions necessary to protect myself and my crew. But big swordfish have the temperament and ability to do some real damage to anyone in the water with them, so we steer clear of the big ones.
Your art seems to focus on saltwater life and you are obviously passionate about it, but have you ever had any interest in freshwater biology?
I grew up fishing on the ocean and the freshwater fishing in Grand Cayman is non-existent so I am quite partial to saltwater fishing. However, I have fished freshwater a bit and appreciate the freshwater ecosystem and the skill it takes to find and land a big bass. I have painted a lot of freshwater scenes, too.
How did you arrive at the decision to first pursue marine biology and then pursue your hobby, or was it all serendipitous? How did you turn your passion into a profession? And, was it your intention to build a brand?
Although I painted my whole life, my entire academic career was aimed at becoming a marine biologist and I was a professor of fisheries biology for a short time. But I was always painting and eventually displayed my artwork at the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show. I sold all of my paintings that very first show! I quit my job as a professor and was painting full time shortly after that. As I like to say, my hobby became my career and my career became my hobby.
It was never my intention to produce artwork for t-shirts and housewares but it eventually worked out that way and then the “brand” was born.
We know you’re familiar with the Animal Planet reality show Tanked, as one of your own facilities has a 33,500 gallon aquarium that was featured in one of the Tanked episodes. Do you have a favorite tank, other than the one in your restaurant? More to the point, how do you feel about people having exotic fish and marine life as pets? There are obviously many precautions to be taken when caring for marine life; would you say that owning exotic aquatic animals is something that should only be left to the experts?
The “Tanked” tank at the Guy Harvey Outpost is definitely my favorite, especially since I helped catch some of the fish in there! But from what I know, saltwater aquariums are very difficult to maintain and should be left to the experts. People should be certain that their exotic fish are coming from a sustainable source and that none of their fish should be released into the wild.
When you started painting full time, the web had not even been invented yet. But even as early as 1998 you already offered video features on your web site. You were ahead of your time. Can you share with us a little about how the web has impacted you personally and professionally over the past twenty years?
The web has just made it easier for the Guy Harvey brand to reach new eyes and stay in touch with current customers. Now when I want to get out a conservation message all I have to do is post it through one of our social media outlets vs trying to get it picked up by local and national news outlets.
I'm sure as you go about your daily life you see your paintings on walls, in places where you might expect them to be, but perhaps also in some unusual places. Could you share with us the where's the most surprising or unusual place you've ever encountered one of the paintings?
I have seen my artwork in some unexpected places but what always catches me off-guard are the tattoos that people get of my paintings. While it is a huge compliment that someone would want my artwork on their body forever, it still amazes me.
Having discussed owning exotic pets and the controversies involved therewith, we should acknowledge that there is also a bit of a backlash on sport fishing. How do find a balance between conservation and sport fishing as a professional angler? Do you have any advice for ocean lovers and diving enthusiasts regarding ethics?
While I do enjoy seafood and have no problem taking a fish that I’m going to eat, I think that all sportfishing for billfish, sharks, Bluefin tuna and anything that is overfished should be catch-and-release only. We know from our satellite tagging studies that these fish survive after their release so this is a great way for the angler to experience the excitement of catching a big fish while allowing for healthy populations to thrive.
I also encourage everyone to fish with circle hooks, which increase the probability of hooking the fish in the jaw, allowing for a better fight and increases the probability of post-release survival.
With the rise in animal rights awareness, there has been a movement in favor of recognizing cetacean rights. What are your thoughts and views on non-human person rights and its impact on commercial conservation?
It is tough to justify keeping these intelligent, social animals in captivity but there is a definite educational benefit for allowing average people to see these animals up close. If the whale or dolphin was born in captivity, I think they can be a great educational tool but it is probably not in the best interest to remove these animals from wild populations.
Fisheries management focuses on increasing seafood populations, but some may not be familiar with the details of this field. Can you expand on what you do to increase populations and maintain a sustainable seafood industry?
Knowledge is key. The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation works to conduct research and provide the data so that fisheries managers can make educated decisions on managing our marine fisheries. We also provide education guides that tell people which fish are harvested sustainably and are ok to eat, and which fish are overfished or harvested in a destructive manner and should be avoided.
What unique dangers do coral reefs face? Between coral reefs and the open ocean, which ecological zone is more at risk?
Coral reefs are unique because their health is directly impacted by water quality. As the oceans become more acidic, corals can no longer produce the calcium substrate that give the reefs their shape. Increased nutrients also promote algae growth, which hurts corals. Both the near shore and offshore environments are facing serious negative impacts neither of them are better than the other.
Artificial coral reefs have their pros and cons. What are your views on artificial reefs and marine debris?
These are two very different subjects. While I am a strong proponent of artificial reefs and the habitat that they provide, marine debris is a danger to wildlife and boaters alike.
What upcoming project or projects at the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation are you most excited about?
The GHOF is expanding our ongoing tagging program. We had tremendous results from our tiger shark study and are now focusing on mako and oceanic whitetip sharks. These results are even more fascinating as we learn more about the long distance migrations undertaken by these fish. We are also putting more tags out on sailfish and white marlin, in addition to funding a number of other researchers.
Ultimately, what motivates you to share your art with others? Is there something specific that you want the viewer to think or feel when they experience your work?
People are very passionate about fishing and often want to remember a particular fish or fishing story and I think my artwork helps them do that. It is difficult to spend much time with these animals that live underwater so I think that my artwork helps brings them into everyday life.
What goes on in that proverbial “Bermuda Triangle” where art, science, and commerce all intersect? Do you find yourself sometimes pulled too far by one of the three interests?
While I wish that I could just fish, dive and paint all day, every day, the realities of life and business do catch up with me. Luckily, the art, science and business all complement each other so no matter what I’m doing, I am working on at least one aspect of the business. Each of these interests begin with my time out on the water.
Today, the world seems to be more informed about marine conservation efforts than it was about five or six decades ago. What would you say is the issue of greatest importance facing our oceans in the 21st century?
There are a number of threats facing our oceans but I think that overfishing is, perhaps, the most serious. As the human populations continue to grow exponentially, more people will be looking to the oceans as a source of protein. If our marine fisheries were to collapse, that would have serious, worldwide implications.
We sincerely thank Dr. Harvey and the entire Guy Harvey brand for their partnership with Gainesville Coins and their willingness to offer answers and insights for the purposes of this interview. Their continued contributions to ocean conservation and the health of threatened and endangered marine wildlife are invaluable to the sustained interrelations and counterbalances of the Earth’s aquatic ecosystems.