So Lee Moyer is a wondrously talented artist/illustrator/designer in Portland who has painted many a mermaid and not just mermaids but undines, selkies, and all manner of mythical sea life. He is also an excellent tour guide, as he demonstrated two summers ago when he took my friend Barb and me to massive waterfalls and spooky old hotels and and Lebonese and Argentinian restaurants and even brought us a box of voodoo doughnuts including the ones coated in Cap’n Crunch. Plus his then-wife Annaliese photographed us in her very own mermaid tank that they kept in their garage. Unfortunately, now I expect all hosts to do these things and they never, ever do.
Lee also one of those terrible people who knows everything and he’ll tell you all about amazing artists you’ve never heard of and amazing things you’ve never seen and he’ll also beat you at Scrabble and make fun of you for playing “qi” and really I suspect he is like an encyclopedia of gorgeousness and general bad sportsmanship. Lee also tends to look very prophet-like when walking away from waterfalls, but then who doesn’t:
What follows is my interview with Lee, and a selection of his mermaidly work, which he graciously sent to me along with accompanying descriptions.
Also: next time I see Lee I am totally beating him at Scrabble.
PART 1: INTERVIEW
What do you think the appeal of the mermaid is?
I think when we first encounter mermaids, we relate to their entrapment, their isolation, their yearning for knowledge and acceptance. For all that they may be well-connected, powerful, talented and loving of their families, the world outside is irresistible to them.
The unknown abyss, the lost and the hopeless draw us in similarly. The promise of magic, the gift of love and forbidden beauty pulls us to the sea, and to the mermaid. As adults we know that we too are mostly made of sea foam. We still feel those yearnings.
As a painter (and writer and all the rest), I find mermaids and their cousins to be filled with stories, some paradoxical, some whimsical, some terrific. Sometimes those stories are outside the boundaries of history and tradition.
Do you have any favorite artistic representations of mermaids?
I also love Michael Kaluta’s “Behind Neptune’s Throne” (seen in his interview here) and “The Wedding Guest”:
Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Get out there, ladies! How are you going to be a mermaid if you sit at home and pine? How would we know about The Little Mermaid if she’d been content to be an ennui-filled homebody? Visit Weeki Wachee! Tie your legs together and swim! Build your own wooden chest for the precious objects you’ve rescued from the sea! Learn to dive for pearls! Build yourselves a tail! Get training in CPR (beautiful sailors aren’t just going to rescue themselves you know)! Maybe attend the upcoming Mermaid convention in Las Vegas. If you can’t draw and write yourself, offer to pose for talented artists and talk to talented writers. Surely other people will want to help you bring your beautiful dream to life.
PART 2: GALLERY
Here, the Little Mermaid and Reepicheep bid farewell to a pirate ship. I show it here because, however outside canon (or indeed common sense), it’s the sweetest, most traditional portrayal of a fairytale mermaid I’ve done.
Above Devil’s Reef
By contrast, here’s her cousin saying hello to a doomed Mary Celeste. The Shadow Over Innsmouth is my favorite of Lovecraft’s weird tales in part because the horror turns to supernatural beauty, fear to acceptance, and the aquatic Deep Ones to dear relations. Xenophobia become xenophilia…
Just because mermaids are beautiful and kindly, doesn’t mean however that they understand the necessity of things we take for granted – like breathing. And if they live forever, why should the shortened spans of their chosen mates keep those mates from looking their best? Sometimes love and death are synonyms.
Sometimes a mermaid sits serenely by herself on a distant rock, looking out at more distant stars, thinking still more distant and unknowable thoughts. You know that, right?
Created to be the centerpiece of singer Tori Amos’ charity calendar for RAINN (http://www.rainn.org/), this piece came from her question in Silent All These Years “But what if I’m a mermaid?” Kudos to the great Tom Orzechowski for the inspired Art Nouveau type.
I was tired of showing my work at shows where every single person portrayed in the artwork was white. For the World Science Fiction Convention in Baltimore, I wanted to draw my fellow artists’ attention to this sad state of affairs, and lead by example. Just because I’m pasty white, that’s no reason to draw only fair-skinned blondes. And how better to make that point than with a creature never portrayed any other way? I wanted to paint a deeply black-skinned mermaid off the skeleton coast of Namibia, but none of the agencies in the Washington DC/Baltimore area even represented anyone with such a dark skin tone. Instead, I was lucky enough to find Royale. Her Mom was from Jamaica (whose old capital city was called Port Royale – watch for it in the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean adaptation of Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides). That gave the piece a different focus – one of sunken treasure, romance, and a lighter-skinned Caribbean mermaid.
While I’ve mentioned Deep Ones in passing, there are many other cousins to the Mermaids most of us are familiar with. Here, with the help of Wikipedia, is a little spotter’s guide:
In Greek mythology, the Nereids (pronounced /ˈnɪəri.ɪdz/, NEER-ee-idz; Ancient Greek: Νηρηΐδες) are sea nymphs, the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris. They often accompany Poseidon and are always friendly and helpful towards sailors fighting perilous storms. They are particularly associated with the Aegean Sea, where they dwelt with their father in the depths within a silvery cave. The most notable of them are Thetis, wife of Peleus and mother of Achilles; Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon; and Galatea, love of the Cyclops Polyphemus.
My version of the Nereid was done for an obscure Dungeons and Dragons book called Stormwrack, but later featured in Spectrum, The Year’s Best Fantastic Art. Imagine my surprise when people kept telling me that the blue patterned aliens with long pointy ears from James Cameron’s Movie Avatar looked a lot like them….
According to a theory advanced by Paracelsus, an Undine is a water nymph or water spirit, the elemental of water. They are usually found in forest pools and waterfalls. They have beautiful voices, which are sometimes heard over the sound of water.
In 18th century Scotland, ondines were also referred to as the wraiths of water.
I drew this Undine for my old online game, Sanctum. The idea that a fearsome water elemental should deign to conform to human size seemed a little too much to ask. The inverted triangle design around her is the old alchemical symbol for water by the way….
Selkies (also known as silkies or selchies) are mythological shapeshifting creatures that are found in Faroese, Icelandic, Irish, and Scottish folklore.
Selkies are seals that can shed their skin to become humans. The legend apparently originated on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, where selch or selk(ie) is the Scots word for seal (from Old English seolh).
Selkies are able to become human by taking off their seal skins, and can return to seal form by putting it back on. Stories concerning selkies are generally romantic tragedies. Sometimes the human will not know that their lover is a selkie, and wakes to find them gone. Other times the human will hide the selkie’s skin, thus preventing them from returning to seal form. A selkie can only make contact with one particular human for a short amount of time before they must return to the sea. Examples of such stories are the ballad, The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry, the movie The Secret of Roan Inish and Ondine.
I’ve taken this Selkie out of her northern European milieu, and up around the polar icecaps. When this selkie, in her beautiful white harp seal form, encounters a group of hunters after her fur she is faced with a most unpleasant choice- If they take her skin she’ll be trapped forever as a human. But if she doesn’t reveal herself….
Lorelei, Nixie, Melusine, Merrow….
I don’t have illustrations of all the various types (as they appear around the world and in most every culture), but suffice it to say that some sirens mean no good to man or woman.
Some mermaids are not even from the oceans of Earth. The Aguatunisians are a peaceful people, but with this rare exception are seldom seen outside their homeworld. Here is an ad for “Uncle” Bob Grivaar’s Amusement park from Starstruck, the 363-page graphic novel by Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta that I’ve spent the last two years working on.