Ocean coasts evoke thoughts of balmy glamour. Ocean depths are decidedly more sinister. Think of the black and icy Mariana Trench, nearly seven miles deep, or of the tsunamis that raze cities. The beauty and power of our oceans—their waves, tides, seafloors, marine life, and mysteries—have fueled research and fascinated artists through millennia.
In the new book Ocean: Exploring the Marine World, 300 images drawn from more than 3,000 years of history take us through views of the ocean spanning mediums and epochs. Oceanographic maps, scientific illustrations, paintings, and film stills splash across the volume’s glossy pages.
Similar works from different disciplines and cultures are paired in spreads. For example, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus faces Joan Jonas’s Moving Off the Land II: Mermaid, which sees a reclining figure—half-woman, half–sea creature—sprawled on a chaise longue, entangled in seaweed. Pierre Belon’s terrifying sea serpent, a print from 1553, is paired with Huang Yong Ping’s spectacular sculpture Serpent d’Océan, a 425-foot aluminum skeleton of an ocean serpent.
Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is paired with Joan Jonas’s Moving Off the Land II: Mermaid—half-woman, half–sea creature.
Other standouts include Subhankar Banerjee’s aerial photograph of the Arctic, which reads like an abstract color-field, and Glenna Gordon’s shot of the Brazilian cargo ship Frotamerica, marooned in 2013 on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, evoking a place so unwelcoming that Portuguese sailors call it “the Gates of Hell.” Meanwhile, Salvador Dalí’s decadent Swirling Sea Necklace—a necklace of sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, and pearls—is fit for Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon.
The dark depths of the Mariana Trench and the dangers of the Skeleton Coast are no match for the most jarring picture in the book: a close-up of Tan Zi Xi’s enormous installation Plastic Ocean. Consisting of a staggering 26,000 pieces of debris, this constellation of plates, cans, and colorful bottles is an ominous reminder of what’s already underway. —Elena Clavarino
Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor for AIR MAIL