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Desmond Katsutaro Thain

During the 1800s Japanese fishermen recorded their catch by rubbing fish with sumi ink and then pressing them onto washi paper. Two centuries later, gyotaku, or fish printing has evolved into its own distinctive art form. For Hawaiʻi-based Desmond Katsutaro Thain, gyotaku became a natural fit: the historic tradition intertwines two of his passions—spearfishing and art.


Although Thain grew up in both Japan and on Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, it is in the ocean where he continues to feel the most at home. As a child, if he wasn’t on a mat training in wrestling and jiu jitsu, he could be found exploring his hometown waters off Waikīkī or in the local library studying marine life reference books. As a young adult, he took up spearfishing. Not long after, he printed his own first gyotaku, a fantail uhu.


Today Thain specializes in fine art gyotaku with a strong emphasis on hyper-realism and exquisite coloration. Depending on the size or intricacies of pattern of a featured fish, a piece can take hundreds of hours to complete. He also utilizes non-toxic ink so that post-printing, the fish can be consumed.


As a self-taught artist and spearfisherman of Japanese-American descent, Thain is honored to continue the historic tradition of gyotaku. A Thain piece is special in that the artist’s involvement is present in myriad levels—from the hunting of the fish, to the printing, to the subsequent consuming so that there is no waste. Thain considers his method a full-circle approach to art—a seamless combination of art and culture, athleticism and awareness.

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