Dailan Pugh

Australian artist and painter, Dailan Pugh, knows the underwater realm. He captures its vivid colors and dynamic diversity of life on canvas like no one else.

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I grew up in an artistic household in woodland near Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, spending summer holidays playing in temperate rock pools and snorkeling. We cared for orphaned and injured native wombats and kangaroos. This engendered in me a deep love and respect for our natural environment, which was expressed through my drawing.

In my early twenties, I moved to north-east New South Wales to live near rainforest that I was then drawing. In reaction to my growing concern, I devoted increasingly more of my time progressively to rainforest, old growth forest and vegetation conservation.

It was my involvement in attempts to maximise sanctuary zones in the Cape Byron Marine Park that led me back into my fascination with the marine realm. This coincided with my desire to devote more of my time to artwork and to start painting in oils.

Who were your role models or mentors and how did they affect your artwork/artistic vision or development?

Being raised in an artistic environment established a desire to express myself through artwork, and while there are many painters I admire, I use the environment as my muse. I adopted the marine environment as a subject for developing my oil painting because of its strangeness, its atmospheric qualities, its abundance of weird and wonderful wildlife, and its need for promotion and understanding. I thought it could teach me a lot about painting.

Tell us about your artistic vision and artistic methods, process, techniques, materials, etc., i.e. describe your artistic method and tell us why you chose the medium and methods you use.

My rekindled interest in the underwater world coincided with my desire to start oil painting, and I considered it provided the perfect muse to develop my methods and style. I take numerous digital photographs when snorkelling and use these as reference material for painting.

While snorkeling, I will usually also develop some ideas for paintings. I initiate the painting process by sorting through my photos to select those appropriate to the locality and concept.

I start by sketching the key features (often fish) and positioning them to achieve a basic design. I then sketch in additional fish to refine the design and achieve a pleasing composition. I then generally work from the background forward to complete the work.

From the vantage point of a snorkeler, I seek to take the observer’s eye on a journey around and into my paintings, while realistically depicting the subjects and their surroundings. My desire is to touch the heart of the viewer.

What inspires you? What inspires you about the underwater world? Tell us how the sea inspires your work and why you use themes of the underwater realm.

Nature inspires me, I love its multitudes of patterns, colours, forms and processes... its proliferation of living beings, from the smallest to the largest. The sea is especially inspiring, as in that world, the water is the atmosphere. Being 80 times as dense as our air, it enables the inhabitants to leisurely float around or to wait until diner floats by.

Its inhabitants have thus developed strikingly different from their terrestrial counterparts. The seaweeds, sponges and corals take on a multitude of forms not seen in the terrestrial realm, though it is the vivid colours and intricate patterns of fish I find most alluring. Unlike birds, they often hang around, tantalisingly just out of reach.

Are you a scuba diver and underwater photographer? If so, what made you become one and where have you dived? What are your favorite dive locations?

I take numerous photos when I snorkel, though as they are primarily for reference purposes, I photograph just about anything and everything.

I have snorkelled various places around Australia, though spend most of my time in the nearby Cape Byron Marine Park or, when I can, on the Great Barrier Reef, particularly Lady Elliot Island.

What are your current artistic and ocean conservation projects?

I have spent three years immersing myself in the underwater realm, and have learnt a lot in the process. I am now going to focus on the majestic River Red Gums, which follow the rivers into our arid interior. They, and the myriad of cockatoos and parrots which rely on them, have something to teach me and are also under immense threat due to climate change.

Any future projects in mind? What are they and how do they relate to the sea or ocean conservation?

The ocean realm is literally another world. I will always be fascinated with it and believe it contains the most wondrous ecosystems on earth. I am very concerned that as we are warming the oceans, our carbon dioxide is causing their waters to acidify. Their fragile beauty will inspire me to return to them frequently as my painting evolves.

The Great Barrier Reef system is one of the world’s natural wonders, and is under imminent threat from bleaching and acidification. On current trends, I don’t have long left to experience its full beauty, so I will make the most of it. I hope my artwork can help raise awareness of what we are destroying.

Why does art matter and how can art help the world?

I think that the most important thing a person can do is experience something for themselves, though for the marine realm, it is best if it is in a clear sea, in a sanctuary area with abundant fish, and without too many scary creatures.

Aside from its cultural attributes, art is one means of establishing a viewer’s contact with natural ecosystems and may enhance the experience by accentuating an aspect or feeling. My hope is that my art will deepen people’s appreciation of the marine realm, and thereby their concern for it.

How can interested buyers contact you?

I am contactable through my website: At this time I am only selling originals. Prices are according to size and medium, with oil paintings starting at $2,400 Australian. ■


Press releases from Divers Alert Network (DAN)