Brent Condon - Fishing Art

An artist profile on illustrator Brent Condon...

Q: Tell us about your background: how does a Westie like yourself get into creating art?

A: Since primary school I just loved to draw… usually fish species of all kinds. Give me a sketch pad and a pencil and I’d sit in the back of the family Valiant and sketch for hours on long family trips or at school during boring maths classes.

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As a proud Westie kid going through Kelston Boys in the early 90s, when Sir Graham Henry was headmaster, rugby was the holy grail. Academia and creative outlets were not exactly celebrated – but I came out of high school with top honours in fine art and then aspired to be a commercial illustrator.

The problem was work life as a commercial illustrator really didn’t pay the car bills or rent, so I graduated from Unitec Polytechnic here in Auckland as a graphic designer and I have been in the advertising and marketing industry all my life.

Q: You have a focus on the marine world in your work: why do you draw inspiration from the ocean?

A: As an air breather, I’ve always had one foot in the water, swimming and eel-tickling in bush-clad streams and then obsessively chasing and stalking fish species across the globe for the last 30 years in both streams and oceans. So, naturally, oceans have their tendrils entwined with every part of my life story. To be a top angler you need to think like a fish and that has its advantages – like providing a plethora of endless inspiration and storytelling for my artwork.

Q: What’s your favourite method of fishing?

A: Saltwater flyfishing chasing pelagic bullets with teeth like a witch doctor’s necklace, is my favourite method. I love anything on light tackle these days including softbaiting and spinning also, as I can do this with family on the Wāitemata Harbour.

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Q: How would you describe your style, and what other artists have influenced you?

A: I would say my style is very narrative-focused, utilising Indian ink and gouache on paper mostly.

I have been influenced heavily by classical artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, legendary heavy metal cover-artist Ed Repka, the ‘Lowbrow Art’ of Robert Williams (illustrator for Guns and Roses covers), and also a tapestry of Celtic, Nordic, and Pacific seafaring symbolism from the countries where I have stalked legendary fish.

Most of my works reflect an action from a more extensive story-telling sequence, concerning tales such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, local taniwha of Tāmaki Makaurau, and family sagas of whalers and fishermen in the Marlborough sounds.

Q: What’s your favourite art medium?

A: Coming from a design background I have always loved Photoshop for highly detailed illustration and conceptual work – especially for canvases like hot-rod and boat graphics – but for me, digital art can seem detached and somehow sterile.

I have gone back to old-school ink, pencil, and gouache on parchment. Traditional artwork to me is more personal, human, and soulful in the creative process and you can’t hide your mistakes with the click of a delete button!

Q: You draw some wild beasts: what’s your favourite species or imaginary creature to draw, and why?

A: Leviathan, the multi-headed sea-serpent of the Old Testament. In the Book of Isaiah. Leviathan is a sea serpent and the inspiration for many mythological maritime creatures throughout Western seafaring history. It took a grey-bearded magician who lives in the clouds (God, not Gandalf) to dispatch the GOAT of all-time sea serpents – smiting the beast with a magic sword from outer space… or something like that!

Q: Can you describe the process you go through when creating an art piece?

A: I let all the swimming behemoths in my head free to slither onto paper at the end of a pencil or gouache brush. Never really planning how they come out, they take on their own life with anthropomorphic limbs, clothes, hats, and quirky expressions of their own accord. Once on paper, they wait to be discovered by some unfortunate seafarer in a forgotten shanty.

Q: Your main job is Head of Marketing & Sales at Air Chathams: how do you fit in illustrating around work and family commitments?

A: I don’t sleep!

Q: Do you see any similarities between fishing and art?

A: Great question. Just look at the art of flyfishing, fly-tying, or lure-making.

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As an artist and fly fisherman, you are always striving to refine your artistic craft as well as the crafting of the next cast and presentation of a fly to a wary target, whether it be a northern pike in Ireland, a trophy brown trout or a northern snapper tailing on the mangrove flats of Parengarenga Harbour chasing crabs.

I think a creative imagination, fishing intelligence, and hunting prowess are entwined and primal in nature. The urge to hunt and paint ‘the tale of the hunt’ have existed together in homo-sapiens culture from the very beginning – with the very first recorded cave paintings depicting humans hunting pigs in the South Sulawesi of Indonesia. These rock paintings were dedicated to the quarry these people hunted and survived upon over 43,900 years ago.

That primal connection is why I fish, paint, practice conservation, or build boats – it keeps me centered and in touch with my awa-based wairua (nature-based spirituality).

Q: What role do you think art can play in making New Zealand a better place?

A: I think nature-focused art in public places can remind people of the fragility of natural ecosystems that we co-exist with. Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050.

Too easily people forget the wild and native animals and fauna that we share the local waterways, forests, and oceans with. There are too many Uber Eats-munching urbanites whose only spiritual connection to nature is hand-feeding feral pigeons!

Public space artwork can create a conservation culture. I think public art and sculpture have an inherent obligation to empower and educate people about the preciousness of wildlife around Auckland.

November 2023 - Nick Jones
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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