A morning cup of coffee at Aptos Coffee Roasting Company is now almost as invigorating as diving into the waters of the Monterey Bay. On a crystal clear day. And without an oxygen tank.
The walls of the coffee shop are lit with aquatic scenes and specimens from the undersea adventures of free diver and marine illustrator, Amadeo Bachar. And there they will stay until the end of December.
From bull kelp caught in a translucent green wave to the scales of a Scorpion Fish or Calico Bass, Bachar’s illustrations are so lifelike, you can almost taste the salt.
For Bachar, displaying this much art is new to him. (He’s used to sending his illustrations off to grace the pages of textbooks and magazines like the National Geographic, and Scientific American, and the California Department of Fish and Game's Finfish and Shellfish Identification Book.)
“But people don’t usually hang that work on their wall, I mean maybe in a hundred years if they kept those magazines around,” said Bachar, as he sipped a hot chocolate amid the coffee shop bustle.
“I think that you can’t take lightly the amount of people that will see your art in a place like this compared to in a gallery,” he said.
And letting the people enjoy his artwork is something he’s stoked about—and why the prices of his prints start as low as $75.
“That’s important to me with my prints and a lot of my artwork, for people to to enjoy it and have it in their houses,” said Bachar.
In other words, he’s the kind of artist who would rather give a print to a friend who loves it than let it gather dust in a drawer somewhere.
Bachar can hold his breath for up to a minute and a half. He says he prefers free diving because it’s a more natural way to interact with the fish—without the flurry of bubbles and Darth Vadar sound effects emitted from an oxygen tank.
Born in Wadell Creek, Bachar worked his way through art and science classes at Cabrillo College before transferring to UC Santa Cruz to major in Marine Biology. He’s now a teacher of scientific illustration at California State University, Monterey Bay.
Many of his illustrations are reminiscent of the early botanical plates, or John James Audobon’s archival bird prints, and he’s figured out the perfect harmony between a sepia toned background and the colorful scales of his fish.
“For some reason plants just lend themselves to be composed on a page so beautifully. So I think that the composition and the delicacy of the plants and the way that they’re rendered was inspiring,” said Bachar.
But he hasn’t pinned himself down to one style. The surreal Año Floating Kelp (a wedding present for friends), places richly colored seaweed floating Georgia O’Keefe style, in the air rather than water, against the muted backdrop of the beach at Año Nuevo.
As prolific as the 37-year-old's career has been already, Bachar does not deny his artist temperament. That is: the role of procrastination in producing a fine finished product.
Luckily for Bachar, his “procrastination” provides an upwelling of material for his creative appetite.
“Diving, surfing, fishing, those can all really eat away at my time,” said Bachar. “But we all function that way, some people have to procrastinate and they only get it done last minute, and sometimes it brings out the best. I need to go out and experience stuff, feel a little bit of stress and come back and operate,” he said.
And if he didn’t spend so much time in the water, who knows how he could have captured the way the sunlight moves through water to dapple the scales of a Yellowtail below its surface.
“I see it all the time, it’s super magical. There’s God rays everywhere underwater, and when it’s sunny out they surround you, but they’re always moving because what they are is just refractions of the waves above, so capturing that’s tough,” said Bachar.
For those of us who don’t spend so much time swimming with Mako sharks and Marlins, those God rays add an invaluable rush while stirring sugar into our coffee.
Watch this time lapse video of Amadeo Bachar working on a painting of yellowtail, from start to finish. Awesome.
Between diving and hanging with his 18-month-old daughter, Bachar works with watercolor, acrylic and graphite in his studio in La Selva. His latest project involves seven historical illustrations to be placed throughout the Arana Gulch greenbelt. He’s also teaching water color and field sketching summer courses at CSUMB, which are open to anybody. For more information, email the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out his website. And be sure to check out his show now through the end of December.