September 5, 2017
Click through Kelly Reark’s online gallery and you will find yourself in a South Florida ocean scene: canvas, silk, and fish mounts show bright renditions of turtles, flats fishermen, sea horses, and—of course—bonefish, tarpon, and permit.
Kelly’s Florida roots go back several generations. As a child, she developed an interest in the local wildlife while hunting and fishing with her family. She attended the University of Miami and upon graduating in 2002, moved to Boca Grande where her father ran a tarpon fishing charter. Eight years later, Kelly started her career as a professional artist.
She began experimenting with different media and color combinations, even adding her “trademark” style to three-dimensional fish mounts. Someone asked Kelly to paint a mount and, saying, “I’ll paint on anything!” she watched a rush of similar orders come in. The mounts have “this nostalgic quality to them, but they’re still modern … And I like the ability to take all those facets that someone loves about their fishing trip, or their home, and put it all into one piece. It’s like a 3-D memory on your wall.” Some examples of these unique mounts are pictured below.
“It was an easy fit for me to carry on doing what I like to do,” remembers Kelly. But as she spent more time in Boca Grande with her father, she witnessed a less exciting transition. She explains, “I’ve seen the fishery change quite a bit since I’ve been here, and I want to encourage the conservation of—well, everything, but mainly what I’ve seen with my own eyes.”
Kelly heard about Bonefish & Tarpon Trust before a fundraiser in Boca Grande and appreciated the practical, science-based approaches it takes in conserving and rebuilding vital fisheries. She says, “I work from a conservation angle, as a hunter and a fisherman, so I know that we need to have responsible practices in place in order to sustain the ability to be out there hunting and fishing. BTT is one of those research-based conservation groups that I admire for their work and what they’ve been able to accomplish.” Her message comes from a place of respect for the life she grew up around; she remembers witnessing “people doing things without understanding … like pulling the fish out of the water for too long, or putting their hands inside the gills to hold the fish. It’s usually a case of not knowing any better. Using my art to advocate for organizations like BTT means that my work serves as living visual education of what can be done, not a record of what once was. My hope is that my artwork sparks the desire to preserve species and habitats, and also replaces the need for killing trophies they don’t plan to eat.”
Just in 2017, Kelly has donated two pieces to BTT event auctions—a bonefish and a tarpon—and a gift certificate to another in Islamorada. Now, she is working on a piece for the 6th International Science Symposium in November: “It’ll be a pretty good-sized permit, and that’s all I can really say about it right now.”
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