These still images are from the filming of Picture the Leviathan, a documentary film by Jason Houston and Hal Clifford scheduled for completion in May 2012. Picture the Leviathan shows the passion and effort James Prosek puts into making his extraordinary watercolor portraits. The film’s theme—that art makes a difference—is supported by three legs: The quest inherent in Prosek’s journeys; the making of the art; and Prosek’s deeply humble, almost mystical relationship to other species.
Prosek paints in the tradition of 19th-century naturalists who catalogued the world as it was discovered—but he paints creatures that are vanishing. It’s a truism that in order to care for something you first must know it. And we don’t know the once-dominant, majestic creatures of the Atlantic, some of which humans are fishing toward extinction. Facts about the oceans’ decline pile up like sand, with little effect on human behavior. This is where art comes in. Prosek is on a quest to paint approximately 40 Atlantic fish species that are significant to humans—and paint them from life, full-size, after seeing them [in their natural habitat]. Nobody has ever tried to do this—after all, it’s challenging to observe some of these fish in [nature]. His quest takes him stalking swordfish off Nova Scotia; night fishing for deep-water cod; to the Bahamas for giant grouper; to the Cape Verde Islands to see a 900-pound blue marlin. He believes he must be there—right there—when a true, live, leviathan rises from the deep.
The film is intended to help, in a small way, shift the culture by altering the viewer’s perception of our relationship to fish and oceans. Because Picture the Leviathan is part of a larger media suite—the film documents the creation of a body of art that will form the basis for a 2012 book and art exhibit—it will both expand upon and amplify James’s work and that work’s implicit messages about our relationship to the ocean and its megafauna.
— Text courtesy of Jason Houston.