Max Berry silhouetted by one of his fish prints. Below, another of Berry’s works hangs on a fence outside the shop framed by a wall designed by artist Mike Ciccotello. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
It was a long, quiet winter at Red Bank’s Pride Fishing Tackle store. But owner Max Berry landed something rather unexpected.
His inner artist.
Berry, who says he’s harbored a creative yearning for years, decided to act on it by throwing himself into the Japanese art form of gyotaku, or fish printing, during the long lulls between customers this winter.
Berry’s desire to create may be genetic: his father, Bill Berry, of Rumson, was a fine art major in college and returned to oil paintings after a an interval of several decades.
“I’m more of a self-taught artist,” said Berry. “I’m a guy who just likes to create things.”
He’s also been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, for which he takes meds. As a kid, “I ended up drawing a lot in notebooks and on desks,” he said. But not all of his teachers understood that, “if I’m drawing, I heard every word you said. It infuriated some of them.”
Now 41 years old, Berry said he was watching a TED Talk video on creativity when he realized he hadn’t acted on his artistic thoughts in a long time. He’d also been thinking, ” a lot,” about gyotaku. So one day, when a customer came into his East Front Street shop with a 10-pound fluke looking for a print, “I was like, ‘I can do that,'” Berry recalled.
“I had no idea” where to begin, he admitted. But “I hopped on YouTube, found an instructional video, and I just did it.”
He was on his way.
“This winter was so cold. I was just banging them out,” he said. “They just got better and better.”
In case you’re wondering: the fish doesn’t have to be discarded once they’ve made their contribution to the visual arts.
“I like the idea of being able to eat the fish afterward,” Berry said, recalling a 50-pound striped bass he printed. “A lot of people enjoyed that fish.”
With the end of the cold season, Pride Fishing Tackle has become, like many nearby hair salons, restaurants and bars, something of an art space. Berry contacted Mike Ciccotello after coming across his work online, and invited him to take over one wall with his work.
“I just liked the lines he was drawing,” Berry said. “I was super impressed.”
If the work sells, a portion of the price goes to charity, and Ciccotello “gets more paint,” said Berry, who adds that he’s looking to bring in the work of another artists to “kind of tie it all together.”
Meanwhile, Berry’s enjoying a bounceback for his three-year-old shop, after not just an “arctic” winter but the havoc wrought on recreational fishing by Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012. But he’s also producing charcoal drawings, woodcuts and yes, gyotaku prints – all of fish.
“It’s like cooking,” he said. “You just try it, see if it works out. The only person who has to like it is you.”