Going for gyotaku: La Jollan showcases ‘fish printing’ in Village art exhibit

Gyotaku fish prints by Rocky Frost are on view at BFree Studio in La Jolla through Sunday, Sept. 25.
(Courtesy of Rocky Frost)

Blending the traditional Japanese art form gyotaku (fish printing) with the native marine species of La Jolla, a showcase of works by La Jolla resident Rocky Frost is on view at BFree Studio in The Village through Sunday, Sept. 25.

The exhibit is a lifetime in the making.

Frost has been making art since childhood but never explored having his work shown and sold. During his junior year at Mission Bay High School in Pacific Beach, Frost and his father, Clayton Ernest “Jack” Frost, built and operated an auto body restoration shop. Some of his artwork hung on the walls, but that was the extent of it. After his father died in 1999, Rocky Frost continued to run the business until his retirement three years ago.

“I would paint cars, not oil paintings,” Frost said. “I kept saying I would get to it, but I never did.”

Even in retirement, Frost focused his to-do list on projects around the house. “It was a difficult transition,” he said. “I was so used to being busy that I took on all these projects. After a year, I ran out of projects, so I started painting.”

Frost is an avid fisherman, and his son Baron introduced him to the art of gyotaku.

“Fishermen would bring their catch in, put ink on it and lay rice paper on it to document their catch,” Frost said of the medium. “It was not an art form at first, but since then, artists have taken their style and done similar things, usually in ... black and white.

“I catch fish to eat, so my son thought I would like to combine my love of painting with fishing. But since I was going to feed my family with the fish, I didn’t want to put black ink on it, so I use a different type of ink and in different colors.”

Then he paints the image to make it as realistic as possible, he said.

Artist and fisherman Rocky Frost shows one of his catches.
(Courtesy of Rocky Frost)

He said his favorite part of the process is catching the fish. “You never know what you’re going to get until you pull it up. They have different colors and patterns. When I put the rice paper on it and transfer the image, I never know how it is going to look. Then I get to paint over it. Seeing the final product is always a nice feeling.”

Over the past year and a half, Frost has painted dozens of gyotaku prints, along with portraits of birds inspired by photos taken by his wife, Carolyn.

“I always wanted an aquarium at home, and now I have all these fish paintings, which are easier to take care of and they don’t die,” Frost joked. “I’m very happy with how they all look.”

An in-process gyotaku fish print by Rocky Frost
(Courtesy of Rocky Frost)

At a recent First Friday Art Walk in La Jolla, he connected with Barbara Freeman of BFree Studio and explained his unique approach to the ancient medium. BFree Studio opened in August 2021 with a plan to feature lesser-known artists and rotate exhibits every two weeks or every month.

“When I walk my dog by the beach every day, I never had much thought to the assortment of fish right here in La Jolla,” Freeman said. “Rocky changed that for me, and his art makes it very real. I’ve learned so much about our unique waters and canyons off our coast.”

Frost’s exhibit, “Some Things Fishy ... & 4 the Birds,” opened at the gallery Sept. 13.

“I always wanted an aquarium at home, and now I have all these fish paintings, which are easier to take care of and they don’t die.”

— Rocky Frost

Frost said he never intended to become an artist, but he may have caught the bug. “I already have plans for my next show,” he said.

That show also would feature modern gyotaku paintings, but on a much larger scale. “My neighbor is a commercial fisherman, so I want to do a show using the same process with dorado and bluefin tuna,” Frost said.

‘Some Things Fishy ... & 4 the Birds’

What: Art exhibit by La Jolla resident Rocky Frost

When: Through Sunday, Sept. 25. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and anytime by appointment.

Where: BFree Studio, 7857 Girard Ave., La Jolla

Cost: Free