Mapping The Gaps

A Painting for the Seafloor Dwellers

SOI / Bailey Ferguson
Dec. 27 2019

A few weeks before my Artist-at-Sea experience, the program coordinator emailed me to see if I would be interested in creating a painting for a panel on the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s ROV submersible named SuBastian. “Absolutely,” I thought. This was very exciting for me: what a rare opportunity to be one of the few artist that have art displayed on the ocean floor! The other two paintings currently on the ROV are an octopus and crab species, so SOI specifically asked for a coral species or a heat vent. I quickly went to work researching possibilities and preparing my illustration.

I played with several designs for the heat vent, but felt more drawn to paint a coral from the Pacific Region. I consulted with a Hawaiian Coral expert to advise me on which coral to focus on for this project. Keoki Stender from (excellent resource for Hawai’i coral) recommended Antler Coral, Pocillopora grandis, because “it is tall, attractive, and used as a home to various fish and invertebrates” — a true keystone species. This species is found around the Hawai’i Island Chain, and can be seen all across in the Indo-West Pacific to the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

Antler Coral is one of 22 known species of pocillopora. Corals in this family grow thick upright branches, they have raised polyps that give the branches a rigid and bumpy pattern. Their colonies can range from blue, pink, brown, green, and purple. Generally, Pocillopora inhabit shallow reefs. Recently, I also learned the Pocillopora grandis was one species that was severely bleached in the 2015 coral bleaching event in Hawai’i.

After long investigations to figure out the type paint I should use – one that would be able to stand extreme environment pressures and cold temperatures at 2500 meters below – I found the Testors enamel paint. I am very pleased with the color and brightness of the paint, able to depict the beautiful diversity of life found underneath the ocean surface.

As the ROV team returns to the waters for another robust year exploring the deep sea in January 2020, I look forward to seeing the panel installed on the ROV take its first dive into the ocean. I imagine a scene where the ROV is flying into the pitch black waters, and attracts an audience of Anglerfish that use their bioluminescence to illuminate the painting: this deep water species will then view a totally “new” (to them) shallow water coral species. It tickles me and I am so humbled by this opportunity to have art on displays for my newest audience yet.

Bailey Ferguson is the third Artist-at-Sea participant to paint a panel for the ROV SuBastian. Bailey depicted a keystone coral species, Antler Coral (Pocillopora grandis), that is prominent in her home state of Hawai’i and across the Indo-West Pacific to the Eastern Tropical Pacific. The panel will be installed on the ROV in January 2020.

Art: Antler Coral (ROV Painting) 2019, Enamel Paint on metal, 14×25”SOI / Bailey Ferguson

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