About the Artist

My name is Joe McAuliffe.  I live in Tempe, Arizona and have practiced gyotaku since 1992.  The first fish impressions I made were of three bluegill sunfish and look like messy black splotches on paper.  I keep that first attempt hanging on the wall at home to remind me of that inauspicious start.  Clearly, there was much to learn, but I persisted.  The English translation of the book “Gyotaku: the Art and Technique of the Japanese Fish Print” by Yoshio Hiyama served as my most important and valued source of information on techniques and methods.  The guidance provided by this book was absolutely essential for my artistic development and I consider Yoshio Hiyama to be my gyotaku Sensei, or teacher.

Another important milestone in my development as a gyotaku artist was a search for and choice of a Japanese artist name.  Although it is customary in Japan to receive a special name from one’s sensei only after achieving a certain level of mastery, I didn’t have a flesh-and-blood sensei.  Nevertheless, I felt compelled to search for such a name in order to acknowledge the Japanese origin of the art I practiced.  In 1999 after much study and reflection, I chose the name Kawa Magatta or in English, “River Winding.”  I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska next to the big Missouri River and spent a lot of time as a youth exploring meandering rivers.  This name resonated with my diverse life experiences.  Taking the name had a powerful psychological impact and has helped me to continue to advance and improve.

As you can see, gyotaku is a very serious avocation for me.  In addition to pursuit of this art form, I am a research ecologist and Director of Research at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona.   Before I began working in desert environments in the 1980s, my research and publications included studies of aquatic life, including fish, amphibians, turtles, and insects.  Now, rather than a research pursuit of the aquatic realm, artistic expression through gyotaku provides the cool, wet yin that balances the yang of my scientific investigations of hot, dry desert environments.

You can reach me at zen.gyotaku@gmail.com.