Nobody paints marine wildlife like Guy Harvey. The world’s preeminent underwater artist, his photorealistic scenes of sea turtles and bluefin tuna frolicking with stingrays pop up everywhere. Sport fishermen don t-shirts featuring his powerful depictions of their potential catch. Collectors shell out for original canvases, which dot the walls of tropical resorts and seaside chateaus. An avid conservationist with a PhD in marine biology and a research institute that bears his name, Harvey is likely the greatest nature-loving, adventure-diving, grandfatherly fish-painter you’ve never heard of (but need to know).
Raised in Jamaica and descended from a line of Caribbean-dwelling Englishmen dating back to 1664, Harvey fell in love with the sea as a kid. In the mid 80s, after studying marine biology in Scotland and earning his PhD in Jamaica, he tried his hand at art. Inspired by Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Harvey displayed 44 pen-and-ink drawings in a Jamaican gallery. Buoyed by rave reviews, he began painting full time.
Harking back to Harvey’s scientific background, his artistic process is methodical. He paints fish with biological accuracy and makes frequent diving trips to encounter his subjects in the wild.
“These creatures are very hard to access. You can’t go to a zoo or aquarium and see a marlin, mako shark, or bluefin tuna. You have to go where they live, so access is hard. It’s very difficult to do,” Harvey tells The Creators Project. “Most terrestrial artists can sit in a game park, in a field, or on a prairie in Montana or Africa and study their subject matter for hours and hours. I have fleeting seconds with them.”
Giving landlubbers a glimpse of the deep is part of Harvey’s mission as a conservationist. “With all the money in the world, you can’t keep a mako shark in a tank to show people,” Harvey says. So I bring them to people through my art. We gather all this content and turn it into educational storytelling.” The Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI), part of Nova Southeastern University, takes that storytelling one step further. To study shark movement and behavior, the GHRI launched a series of tracking initiatives, tagging sharks all over the world and charting their movements online.
“The biggest research initiative is that we’re aiming to research, in greater detail, the workings of shark genomics,” Harvey says. “Sharks and rays heal at an incredibly fast rate. If they get a bite or get damaged, they heal very quickly. So we want to find out how this is facilitated from a genetic perspective, then figure out how to take that knowledge and apply it to the human genome.” Similar research is threatened by climate change, however, and Harvey says the best way for people to aid conservation is by educating themselves. For his part, Harvey will continue painting to publicize the plight of marine wildlife for as long as his fans will listen.