Jason deCaires Taylor: Art in the Depths
The art of saving our planet through underwater living eco-sculptures.
When you see Jason deCaires Taylor directing a giant crane to lower his sculpture gingerly to the ocean floor, he might strike you as a modern-day Michelangelo. After all, the legendary Italian was a true innovator, as is Taylor. He also reflected the society around him with a passion for beauty and soulful things. Taylor does this as well, with a touch of social commentary thrown in. But Taylor goes a step beyond: he uses the beauty around him as the very paintbrush; the living creatures in his watery world become part of an interactive installation, changing and evolving with time.
A multi-talented sculptor, marine conservationist and photographer, Taylor creates “living” pieces of art in tandem with the ocean. Placing groupings of statues in carefully selected locations, Taylor steps back and gives coral, parrot fish and fire worms free reign to live among and transform his underwater museum as they wish. The result is both groundbreaking … and breathtaking.
Born by the Sea
Taylor was raised in the shadow of the iconic Dover cliffs by an English father and West Indian mother. Proximity to the sea was built-in, which might explain his passion for scuba diving which he began at the age of 18. By his early 20s he was a fully certified scuba instructor, guiding enthusiasts through underwater wonders. The biggest enthusiast was himself.
A Future Takes Form
Perhaps inspired by his underwater adventures, Taylor studied sculpture at Camberwell College of Arts, later continuing his studies at the University of Arts London, where he graduated in 1998 with a BA honours degree in sculpture and ceramics. It suited him well and he excelled, embracing the art form in new ways and soon, for new causes.
A World in Distress
As more and more factors began affecting his ocean playground, Taylor’s scuba dives began to take on a different mission. He saw the ravages caused by acidification, overfishing and pollution. Coral reef populations are particularly hard hit, losing great swaths of habitat. Storms can also wreak havoc on coral habitats, as evidenced each time they are examined post-hurricane. On land this damage is invisible; the ocean is so vast and hides its scars well. But on an up close and personal scuba session the destruction is clear. It moved Taylor deeply. He would combine his creative talents with his sport to create a museum unlike anything the world had ever known.
“Save What You Love.”
This quote by legendary oceanographer and scuba pioneer Jacques Cousteau resonated with Taylor on a very personal level. He took this to heart and designed a revolutionary way to display art that would save his watery muse and the small creatures that depend on it, including his beloved coral reefs.
Taylor says, “Most people just see the surface of the ocean and it is hard to think of something so plain and enormous as fragile. We don’t regard our oceans as sacred and we should.”
A Museum Like No Other
Working with marine biologists, Taylor developed a sculpting medium from PH-neutral concrete, carving grooves into the surface of the statues for the coral and other life to take root and flourish. For his first underwater museum he chose a location close to his heart: off the coastline of Grenada, his mother’s West Indian home. With this his first sculpture park in 2006, Taylor had in effect created the world’s first underwater museum. Noted works include The Lost Correspondent and Vicissitudes. Taylor’s monumental, innovative installation was later named one of the “Wonders of the World – Earth’s Most Awesome Places” in a special edition of National Geographic magazine.
The Statuary Process
Taking full body castings of people from the local population, Taylor brings the surrounding community into his museum in the realest way possible. The sculptures are strategically placed in an area far away from coral reefs desperately trying to recover from damage. In this way, they have peace and time to repopulate and restore the delicate ecosystem, while locals and tourists can still enjoy their scuba vacations.
Buoyed by the overwhelmingly positive reception to his new museum concept, Taylor set off for Mexico where he created another one near Cancun. The Museo Subacuatico de Arte, or MUSA, holds even more ambitious statuary. Unleashing creativity without boundaries, Taylor placed 450 individual sculptures in a grouping that from above takes the shape of a human eye. The Silent Evolution evokes wonder and pensive pause from all divers lucky enough to view it. “As soon as we sink them, they belong to the sea,” says Taylor.
Conquering the Mighty Atlantic
Next, Taylor established a museum of exceptional works off the coast of Lanzarote, Spain. This one was more challenging. The water temperature and stronger tides meant careful consideration to the placement so life would not be swept past the sculptures too quickly, unable to take hold and grow. Working closely with expert marine biologists, Taylor succeeded and wowed the world yet again with sunken works that capture the imagination, like the Raft of Lampedusa and Photographers. The Museo Atlantico is the first underwater museum in European waters.
Where the Coral Grows
Returning to his museums as a talented photographer in his own right, Taylor was awestruck by the magic happening before his eyes. Coral bursting with vibrant color had taken over the surfaces of his sculptures, like graffiti artists take over abandoned neighborhoods. Not only was his desire to help the ocean heal itself by giving it a perfect incubator, but his works were something altogether reborn in the process. Taylor was immensely gratified to see other ocean creatures passing through the museum; like the brightly colored fish momentarily becoming one with the installation before quickly darting off again. The changing sunlight from morning to evening also gives the viewer a new perspective, hour by hour, like a kaleidoscope.
Satisfied with the awareness his work achieved for ocean conservation, Taylor delved into social commentary with works like The Rising Tide, about politicians’ reluctance to address climate change, and The Pride of Brexit, a trio of emaciated lions on the sands beneath the Dover cliffs of his childhood home.
Next Stop: Oz
The latest in Taylor’s brilliant array of works is adjacent to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. A local indigenous girl was the live model for his latest sculpture which now stands illuminated in colors that change with the temperatures of the reef. Ocean Siren highlights how our lives are intimately connected to the reef, the ocean and the fragile marble we call home.
If Taylor’s fascinating career has inspired you to take up scuba diving just to visit his museums you’re not alone. This amazing conservation artist will continue to create, innovate and inspire us all like a modern-day Michelangelo submerged. Learn more about Taylor and his amazing sculptures at underwatersculpture.com.