This week’s cover art has a certain freshness and purity—fitting for the start to a new year. Artist Annie Sessler has captured, literally, the exquisite form of an octopus, un-ironically, in ink. Sessler’s Montauk-based business, East End Fish Prints, is a team project with her husband Jim Goldberg. Sessler fills us in on the holistic, time-honored practice of fish prints.
The octopus is black and white—but what’s that little red mark?
That’s how I sign my prints. The whole fish-printing tradition is Asian, so typically there would be some kind of a block print for the signature. So you’re looking back to that tradition, and the nice little red mark would give balance to the piece—it connects to Eastern philosophies, yin and yang, a universal symbol. Fullness in the void, everything in nothing. And the little “s” underneath is for my name. People respond to it and see all kinds of different things, so it’s kind of a great identifier. In high school I took Intro to World Religions and was fascinated by Eastern philosophies—Confucianism, Taoism, Zen—it was a guiding force for that shape.
What kind of paper do you use?
Actually, 99 percent of my prints have been on different fabrics—inherited, found, bought. This one is on satin. When I started doing this, my mother and father had been traveling around the world, and she had brought back Indian silks, fabrics from Hong Kong. But I even print on your common bed sheet. Paper is a whole world I’m starting to explore now that I’m starting to do reproductions.
What are the reproductions like?
Up until the past year I had only been doing originals. Reproductions are scanned digital photographs printed on cotton rag paper, or on silk dupioni. Materials range from sheer to thick.
Is it hard to print on thin textiles or papers?
You have to be delicate. You have to control the intensity of touch and know to back off. With some super-coarse fabrics you can’t tell at all what it’s going to look like. It’s a blind rub, so you’re hoping to cover the whole fish. It’s always a surprise to see the reverse image. The rubbings are from the actual sea life and the subject is the creature itself. It’s super fun.
How did you first get into it?
My husband is a commercial fisherman, surfer, a man of the ocean. One winter he asked if I wanted to make fish prints. I’d never heard of it and it totally floored me—it’s so beautiful. As I watched him do it, it appeared effortless—I practically ripped the brush out of his hand. It’s a nature gift-giving process and you can never totally control it—there’s uncertainty, mystery, surprise, something you didn’t intend.
This octopus was caught by offshore lobstermen. Oftentimes, my husband would be on a dragger and make selections of nice specimens to bring home for me to print, but now I have a lot of people bringing me fish. Some are exotic, or symbolic to them, so they call me up and we arrange a handoff.
The other cool thing is that we also travel to warm water and find other types of fish. And we use non-toxic ink, so we can both eat the fish afterward. And with kids, what child doesn’t want to be involved? So with water-based ink, it washes right off. There’s a great honoring of the fish. It’s not just captured for art. The art is the middle part. Hunting, capturing the fish is the first part; the meal prepared would be the end.
How can people see more of your prints?
I do shows all the time throughout the year. People are welcome to see the online store, and in person is always the best way. There’s a show coming up this spring at Ashwagh Hall. They’re also shown at Lincoln Center, every year at the Montauk Art Show and at Crafts on Columbus on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. I recently had them over at noah’s in Greenport, too.