KAILUA-KONA — Some artists have just a name to sign their work with. Alex Gupton has Bob.
The three-eyed cartoon fish hangs out in the Hawaii Island artist’s pen and ink drawings, hidden among detailed sketches of island plants, animals and people, and acts as a unique signature for Gupton’s work.
Bob was born long before Gupton became a staple in the Hawaii Island art scene, when the artist was just a college student painting an ocean-themed mural for a bar in Athens, Georgia. A friend repeatedly asked Gupton to hide Blinky, a three-eyed fish from the then-new television show “The Simpsons,” in the mural as a joke.
“I wasn’t going to put somebody else’s fish in my work. I couldn’t do it,” Gupton said. “I was doing a little cartooning at the time, so I redesigned a three-eyed fish and then hid this in the mural. The mural was about 20 feet long, and six feet high, and I hid this fish that you could cover with a pencil eraser, and that’s all anybody ever talked about. So then that just kind of became a thing.”
Like his radioactive cousin from Springfield, Bob has survived through the ages. Bob now resides in every pen and ink drawing created by Gupton, hidden among other intricate designs waiting for Gupton’s customers and fans to find him. As a fish, Bob is right at home in most of Gupton’s artwork, which features the non-mutant variety of sea life such as fish, turtles, whales and dolphins.
Gupton was born in Southern California, but he’s called the island home since he was 9 years old, when his family moved from California to Kona. Growing up in Hawaii as a child sparked Gupton’s lifelong fascination with the ocean, where snorkeling with the fish and turtles inspired the creative side of him. Through Gupton’s eyes, the animals found under the sea have more in common with Bob than other people may see.
“Some people can look into the water, and see fish. And to me, they were always just so much more than just fish — they were always these cool, almost alien-looking creatures,” Gupton said. “They just look like something out of somebody’s imagination, not something you should see swimming in the water.
“The ocean’s always had such a strong pull for me, when I’m away from it I just don’t do well. I just like looking at the creatures in the water — they’re otherworldly and marvelous.”
Gupton said his pen and ink drawings can take anywhere from six to hundreds of hours. He doesn’t keep exact time when he’s creating a piece, in order to preserve the fun of being an artist.
“When I’m painting one of my pieces, I paint the background and then I paint the subject. And normally about the time I finish that, a regular artist would be done with the piece, and they would frame it and put it on a gallery wall and it would look great,” Gupton said. “That’s the time when I come in and start the pen and ink on it.”
The time and effort involved has never bothered Gupton. Art is his calling, and he’s been doing it for most of his life. He has the proof hanging in his studio.
“There has never been a time where I have not drawn,” Gupton said. “I have a little drawing in my studio that my mom kept from when I was 22 months old, and it is of a little race car driver.”
Aside from the pen and ink, Gupton also uses glass mosaic tiles to bring ocean life to land. After a decade of painting murals, Gupton found that creating mosaics in the comfort of his own studio was an easier way to be a paid artist. His first, a mosaic of a bird of paradise, was commissioned to be placed at the bottom of a client’s backyard pool.
“As I was putting it together on the floor, I thought, this is too much fun,” Gupton said. “And that was over 20 years ago.”
Gupton’s art can be found at local galleries such as Kona Oceanfront Gallery on Alii Drive and Kohala Coast Fine Art at Kings’ Shops in Waikoloa. Those interested in meeting Gupton and purchasing his art, and finding Bob, can attend Gupton’s artist show at Kohala Coast Fine Art from 5-9 p.m. Friday. Gupton will also be at Kona Oceanfront Gallery from 5-9 p.m. Saturday as part of their holiday show weekend featuring local artists.
“I don’t know exactly how I got lucky enough to be able to do this for a living and support my family, to live here and do this,” Gupton said. “I feel like I’m sort of living in a dream sometimes. It is truly an amazing, amazing life to be able to do this, and be here and be surrounded by such wonderful human beings.”