Fish Paintings

Fish Paintings

A LOOK INTO THE LANDMARK OFFICE

The first thing that struck me about Landmark when I interviewed last November was the overwhelming presence of fish artwork. Every room and hallway in the office, even the areas that no client or manager would ever step foot, featured images of fish or fishing-related scenes on the walls. There was little restraint on the part of the interior designers (or whoever elected to hang all of the paintings); instead of tastefully chosen images spaced sparingly throughout the office’s six floors, the goal seemed to be displaying as many paintings as the walls would allow.

Even stranger is the fact that no one in the office is particularly devoted to fishing. As the story goes, when the company acquired the townhouse-style building, one of the clients asked if the office needed artwork to decorate the walls. He then proceeded to dump his entire collection of fish paintings – all originals, mind you – to be displayed. To give a sense of the volume of paintings, there are twenty-three on the staircase from the first floor to the fifth, seven in the room where I sit (eight if you count the large one stashed behind the printer), and six in the small conference room where the investment team meets.

The funny thing is that I love to fish. I grew up with weekend outings at the Field Farm pond in Williamstown where we caught largemouth bass and then graduated to evenings rowing around the coves of Lake Champlain with my dad during the summers we spent in Westport. I picked up fly-fishing as a leader at Dudley, and Maddie taught me how to gut and clean trout that we have pulled out of Quaker Lake. If I have to be Landmark’s de facto fish guru, that is fine by me.

I have not yet devised a comparison between the office’s single most defining feature and the nature of the work. I need some more time to mull over all of the possible fish metaphors I could use to describe my office, and I will certainly have that, since I am less than a month into my two years here. I did, however, use this peculiar “museum” as the topic for my most poem. This one is fairly autobiographical, and I have attempted to strike a balance among ridiculous, inquisitive, and reverential sentiments.

Dinner last weekend, caught in Quaker Lake

FISH PAINTINGS

The walls of my office are covered in fish paintings.
Exclusively fish paintings.
And not just any old fish paintings
(although I’m sure some date back a century or more)
but original fish paintings.
Five floors of these things —
six if you could the attic,
where many more are stored,
or so I’ve heard —
and so many on each wall as to be claustrophobic.
There are too many to hang them all,
and it’s rumored that the founder once mulled the idea
of buying the building next door
and expanding the business
so as to have more bare walls at his disposal.
They choke and confuse the rooms,
not a regal marlin cresting an ocean wave
but a jumble of netted smelt gasping for air.

When I summon the courage to inquire
about the fish paintings —
“so, who’s the fisherman around here?” —
I am met only by mumbles and shrugs,
so I continue to ponder the fish paintings,
stopping often on my trek up to my fourth-floor desk
to inspect the details of a particular species
or speculate the geography of a scene.
There are watercolors where milky underbellies
of a salmon run flash across the falls and rivulets;
oil-drenched canvases with rippled streams
and textured bark framed in hardwoods;
graphite sketches forlorn and wistful,
the soul-searching eye of the fish
an even deeper shade of black.

Above my desk shaded dark amidst a muddled,
impressionistic slew of browns and greens —
perhaps an Adirondack scene after summer rain —
a lone fisherman wields a hickory swatch,
the line slack but illuminated by dappled sun.
He is steady, unencumbered by the current
or the swaying limbs overhead,
and yet his face is featureless,
a blank and empty space.
And as I project my thoughts across the spectrum
of distance and the years,
composing my own mental sketches
upon his stoic frame,
I wonder what this man did
to be immortalized in such a way,
how his grand deeds or expertise or stature
stacked up against the thousand other fishermen
the artist could have chosen,
and concurrently consider
what he did to deserve his final resting place
among the hundred other fish paintings
in a slow and lonely office
on the east side of Manhattan,
so far from the river he loves.

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