We have a really, really big fish out of water here in Houston, and as the timeless children's book describes, a bathtub or even swimming pool isn't large enough to contain it.
The monumental Primordial Fish sculpture by Austin artist Bob Bacon, in all its 57-feet-long, 18-feet-wide and 14 1/2-feet-tall glory, is now dissembled into 28 pieces in the yard between Box 13 ArtSpace, the new Capitol Street Gallery at 6701 Capitol St. within Bacon's recently relocated Tatu Metal Art studio just south of downtown. And it's waiting for a new home — or owner.
"Remember how Felix the Cat would just eat a fish and toss it aside and it was just a skeleton? From a satellite point of view, that's what I wanted the fish to look like."
A few years ago, Bacon had a solid buyer for Primordial Fish, a deal that unfortunately fell through due to estate issues. When the Houston International Festival failed to organize Houston's Thanksgiving Day Parade last year due to financial woes, he banded with Mayor Annise Parker's troupes determined to save Turkey Day and rolled with other holiday enthusiasts through downtown with Primordial Fish the centerpiece of his float.
Since then, Bacon has contacted the Houston Art Alliance for assistance in designating a public place for the sculpture, drawing temporary interest for one site. He's envisioning it near a body of water, like a part of the bayou.
Primordial Fish is still for sale at $50,000 plus shipping. Or it's going on the rooftop of Capital Street Gallery as Tatu Metal Art's mascot and landmark.
About the fish
Unlike in the children's book, Bacon never overfed it. In fact, he completed Primordial Fish to its fullest dimensions in 2008 after a journey to Burning Man in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. The annual event attracts a massive pilgrimage of participants to celebrate this art experiment of "radical self-expression and radical self-reliance," according to the event's website. Culture gatherers depart one week later, leaving no trace.
His wife had suffered a massive stoke with years of rehabilitation ahead, a heartbreaking setback that moved Bacon to pursue his love of metal work and attend Burning Man as an emotional release and for inspiration. Annie and Bob continue to be in a recovery, rehabilitation and rediscovery mode.
"The moment I planted my foot on the desert floor, I knew immediately what I wanted to do," Bacon says of his ichthyosaur-like creation. "Burning Man looked like a gigantic lake bed to me. I knew fish had lived here eons ago. I wanted them to emerge once again. And I vowed to myself to come back next year — and do it big.
"Remember 'Felix the Cat?'" Bacon continues. "Remember how he would just eat a fish and toss it aside and it was just a skeleton? From a satellite point of view, that's what I wanted the fish to look like."
Bacon called upon Austin architect Jay Hargrave for his assistance in renderings for Primordial Fish. As the drawings began, the fish became bigger. And then it came to life.
"All this time I've been trying to sell it," Bacon says. "It's been in my yard up until about three weeks ago."
Bacon, who holds a business degree from the University of Texas at Austin, has held a fascination with metal sculpting since high school. Working a day job, he finally decided to pursue the craft and bought his first welding machine from Alamo Welding Supply in Austin. In his driveway, Bacon first created whimsical pieces, mainly armadillos, and people starting buying them - and requesting more at commissions of about $400 to $500 each. Thus was the beginning of his metal sculpture company, Tatu Metal Art, with "tatu" Portuguese for armadillo.
Today, he has about 100 armadillo sculptures scattered across the country to owners in Texas, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Vermont, Kansas and California. His subject matter expands to other animals to abstract concept forms to human and exaggerated human form. Many of the sculpted animals have been placed in their natural habitat - and some, indoors in art lovers' homes. His medium is primarily mild steel and rebar, with some forays into more exotic metals and, more recently concrete.
Bacon's donated work received the highest bid at the 2006 Children of Malawi silent auction in Austin. In addition, he received one of the highest bids at the 2007 AIDS Services of Austin silent auction. The Discovery Channel spotlighted Primordial Fish when it was displayed at Burning Man. In 2009, the sculpture was temporarily installed on the First Street Bridge in Austin for Austin Arts Alliance's Art City Austin.
Now in Houston
While Bacon and Annie are gradually transitioning to Houston, he believes Tatu Metal Art, based in the warehouse his brother purchased here about a year ago, has found its home. He joins family members in the metal art business, as well as in their new Capitol Street Gallery adventure. The gallery has already hosted several event-based art shows and will continue to do so on a monthly basis.
But the big fish is waiting it out in the warehouse yard. All 7,500 pounds of it. And 124 bolts. And 1/4-inch-thick steel articulated body with swishing tail at one end and marble-like glass eyes at the other. Wicked teeth, too. Patina changing for the better every day.
"The fish beget Tatu Metal Art and Tatu Metal Art beget the fish," Bacon says. "Primordial Fish has generated so much enthusiasm for me as an artist and for other artists. Now, at this space, I want to help more artists find their inspiration."