The deepest parts of the planet’s oceans are inaccessible places that are rarely visited in person and populated by mysterious creatures that can’t be found anywhere else (like this giant amoeba recently discovered in the Mariana Trench). The vast depths of the sea represent to us all that is unknown, unmanifest, and yet has the potential to become – a phenomenon that the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung describes in speaking of his archetypal symbolism: “The sea is the symbol favorite for the unconscious, the mother of all that lives.”
Needless to say, the ocean and its creatures are a source of immense inspiration and fascination for primarily terrestrial humans. Originally from San Francisco, California, Los Angeles-based artist Robert Steven Connett explores this enduring allure of the sea with his densely detailed paintings of sea creatures – some imagined, others based on real organisms.
Carefully rendered with acrylic paints, the intricacy of Connett’s seascapes – from the meandering, intertwining twists of tentacles to bulbous, translucent shapes – will inevitably draw viewers into otherworldly dimensions.
These eerie dimensions are brought to life by Connett’s skill with brushwork and the energetic, almost psychedelic colors of the paintings – which range from ultraviolet violets to radioactive teals and smoky oranges – and imbue the works with a pulsating stream of life.
The attention to detail in Connett’s works is somewhat reminiscent of the biological studies made by German biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel, who used his skills to render various organisms in painstaking scientific detail in the late 1800s. also perhaps somewhat influenced by the grotesque, an artistic notion and term originating in the Renaissance, and refers to anything that has a strange but fantastical hybrid form, often characterized by curved decorative patterns in flora and wildlife.
But Connett takes this hidden element of captivating beauty beyond the dry rigor of biological study, and elevates it with a new perspective that seems to draw someone into its vibrant depths.
As a child, Connett was deeply curious about the natural world, often drawing insects, reptiles and amphibians from the imagination. Some of his most vivid childhood memories of interfacing with nature include weekly fishing trips he took with his father to the waters of San Francisco Bay, saying “the sea was my teacher.” .
Connett then taught himself to paint and draw in his twenties and continued to develop a remarkable artistic focus. Calling these depictions an “underworld” brimming with bizarre yet fascinating micro- and macro-organisms, Connett explains his motivations behind these works:
“I am often asked why I choose to paint what I do. The simple answer is that these subjects fascinate me. I paint because I like to see my imagination come to life. A deeper answer is this: my work is become a sanctuary. It is a refuge formed from my imagination. I fear that the creatures of the earth that I love and that I sometimes evoke in my work become only a memory of a time when life was abundant and mysterious.”
Indeed, much has been said about the role and impact of artists and their art in the current ecological (and existential) crisis that humanity is going through. Many artists have begun to use their skills to reframe the discussion around the climate crisis, using powerful images and symbols to convey the message more urgently than any solid statistic ever could. It’s kind of a paradox: we humans are the problem – but also the solution – says Connett:
“My paintings are my sanctuary but also a statement and a reminder to those who view my art that life on our planet is part of an extremely complex chain of evolution. We have become the unwitting destroyers of our planet’s ecosystems through our own devices. and the resulting overpopulation of the planet. We are too smart for our own good. Now we must become smart enough to undo the damage we have caused. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to to stop the great extinctions that our species is responsible for triggering.
True, indeed; you can see more of Robert Steven Connett’s work on his website, Instagram, or buy prints on Big Cartel.