Art Circus Spotlight
‘Shark and Octopus (Eat or be Eaten)’ by Michael Hayter

shark and octopus

This image came to me whilst musing on the incredible tale of a sperm whale being found, miles down at the bottom of the sea, in a deathly clinch with a giant squid. Each animal had tried to devour the other, but in so doing both had died and had remained in a post mortem embrace.

On further reflection I realised that this scene was a powerful metaphor for certain human relationships: the desire to devour, to fight, to cling, to flee from – all impulses being felt simultaneously, but resulting in a kind of emotional deadlock in which true movement is impossible. The image became more potent for me when I substituted a shark for the whale and an octopus for the giant squid – the ruthless, predatory, fast-moving agility of the shark, and the slower, softer and more intelligent (yet potentially more ‘devouring’) nature of the octopus (the eight tentacles being a difficult trap to escape from).

I have also come to think that the attributes of these two animals could also be seen as two aspects of the psyche that are at war with each other. The event is clothed in the darkness of the depths of the ocean, symbolising the unconscious or barely conscious nature of the struggle. The danger is that neither combatant will survive – they will either kill each other, or they will ‘drown’.

I have used layers of clear varnish as glazes over the whole scene – I wanted it to feel slightly distanced from the viewer, and to allow the red ink to leach out, like blood in water.
The thickening varnish also acts to set the scene ‘in aspic’ – as if it is a fixed but eternal struggle – a struggle with no certain outcome, but potentially fatal to both.

See more paintings from Michael Hayter