Acrylic on Antique Turtle Shell
Weight 15 KG Artwork is available for sale. Currently off site.
The turtle shell was given to me whilst I was living on Palm Island in 2007. It had been hunted and harvested in the traditional way. Its flesh was used to feed the community. The size of the shell demonstrates that the turtle was over 300 years old. The shell was left on the beach where it had been celebrated in the way of the feast. I transported the shell back to my property in Pomona, Sunshine Coast Queensland where I stored it in the ceiling of my barn to allow it to dry. It took me a long time, contemplating what I should do with the shell. It was always my intent to paint the shell. I had never painted a shell before and even though I had seen them painted before. I always wondered what I could do that would be unique to truly represent the turtle itself but more importantly the plight of the turtle species in this day and age.
To be in possession of something that had lived for more than 4 generations of my own family was very humbling as well as spiritually concerning. I know that I do very fine artwork already and have consistently done so for many years now, however the concept of painting this turtle shell was extremely intimidating for me on many levels. The most important thing for me was to show respect, “to do it justice”. Even after coming up with the concept of what I was going to paint I was still intimidated by what I was feeling emotionally & spiritually. I continued to search within myself to find what was right. Even after commencing the painting I still struggled with certainty of whether what I was painting was correct. I had never painted a shell before and to be honest the sheer size and weight of this shell was extremely physically challenging and at time even painful. The difficult angles and weight of the shell made it difficult to get myself in the correct posture to apply the paint, especially while painting the inside.
I have never painted this story before and even though the technique used was familiar the flow of the artwork itself found me continuously reflecting and meditating, seeking permission and guidance from my ancestral guides. I continuously asked them to guide my heart and my hand to the place where I could produce the artwork that would ensure that the life of this turtle and its species were truly being honoured. As I placed the artwork on the shell I truly honoured this magnificent majestic animal and even more importantly this beautiful, peaceful, gentle species.
I decided to paint both sides of the shell because I had never seen this done before. When we look at a turtle we only see its exterior and therefore truly only focus on its shell and subsequently what the shell represents; security, protection, strength and a safe home. Not many people get to see the inside of a turtle. It is for this reason that I wanted to paint the inside first. Having the spine of the animal on show demonstrates how everything is connected both in our own bodies as well as on our planet. Painting both sides of the shell enables the artwork to become both a painting and a sculpture. By allowing the artwork to not be hung on a wall but rather stand freely in an open space provides an element of freedom similar to the life of the turtle where it can swim freely without boundaries. The turtle can come onto land and return to the sea. I believe the sculptural element of this work enables that still. Even though I have done other more complex work I really wanted to keep the design concept relatively simple to ensure that the artwork complimented the turtle shell rather than the turtle shell complementing the artwork. I wanted to create an artwork with its own beauty as well as highlight the beauty of this species.
I painted the inside first and the inside artwork although simple in concept and design illustrates the journey of the turtle from land to sea, eggs to hatchlings, soft shell to hard shell, from juvenile to adult, the relationship of the land and the sea as well as the cycle of living in the sea and returning to land to lay eggs. The artwork also represents the number of eggs and hatchlings that do not make it to live 300 years due to the natural process. This is a balanced thing and the turtle has evolved to be able to survive with the “natural” predators being considered. For hundreds of thousands of years there was a balance.
The outside of the shell firstly shows where the harpoon which took this turtles life and secondly the number of eggs this turtle has produced in its life to enable its species to survive. The blood from the harpoon is not representative of the indigenous man hunting the turtle but rather the effect of modern mankind’s impact on the turtle which is bleeding this species to extinction.
People may find concern with the turtle being hunted by man. The reality is that whilst the turtle was hunted by indigenous man there was still balance. Now with the influence of modern man and “development” the turtle species is in major number decline and is in such a state that it is becoming endangered. Loss of habitat and food source in the ocean, on shore lights at night on the coast confuse the turtle and prevent them from coming to shore to lay their eggs. Wild dogs, cats, foxes and pigs dig up the nests. Four wheel drives on the beaches compact the sand, over fishing, drag nets, boat strikes, pollution, plastics and other foreign material being ingested by the turtle has destroyed the delicate fabric that was the balanced existence for the turtle. Indigenous man did not cause the decline in species. Indigenous man honours the turtle. Indigenous man is connected to the turtle. For many it is their totem. The turtle is part of indigenous mans spirit and with every decline in species, landscape and seascape indigenous mans spirit bleeds. In the time of this 300 year old turtle we “mankind” have done so much damage, irreversible damage and it is this that hurts our spirit our “human spirit”
I truly hope I have honoured this turtle and this species. I truly hope people who see this artworks beauty as well as the beauty of this species.
Daniel ROMAINE 2015