Adrian Gray's passion for fishing is clearly evident in his artwork and his photography.
The man is a perfectionist, and you won't see his artwork unless it passes a very stringent quality test. Every detail must be perfect. If every finlet, color and use of light is not absolutely without flaw, the piece won't leave the artist's easel.
With that kind of attention to detail, it takes more time to produce a final painting, but the end results are incredibly lifelike scenes that depict a magical moment of the watery hunt. While the artist may never be 100 percent happy with the final piece, the public must be because demand for Adrian's artwork and photos continues to grow.
Born on the southeast coast of South Africa, Adrian took to surf casting for local species such as kob and “pig-nose grunters” as a kid. He credits his mother and grandfather for getting him into fishing. When his grandfather passed away, Adrian inherited his fishing rods. Those rods led to a lifelong passion for angling.
At 11, he and his family moved to New York, where the fishing was much different than South Africa. He started targeting salmon and steelhead in the New York watershed and Great Lakes. At 14 his father bought a cuddy cabin boat and Adrian took it on fishing adventures throughout Long Island Sound. He caught bluefish, fluke and striped bass.
His love of fish and the ocean led him to the University of Miami, where he studied marine biology. “I wanted to do something with fish,” he says, but he had no idea that he’d move into art and photography.
“I would sketch and play around with pencils,” he says. “I took general art classes in high school and excelled at it, but I kind of left it and it didn’t hit again till I was 24 or 25. We caught a big swordfish and I wanted to paint it.”
Using a friend’s easel and leftover paints, Adrian put his swordfish memory on canvas. His swordfish painting quickly caught the attention of the fishing world. The Big Game Fishing Journal ran the painting on its cover and Lindgren-Pitman bought the rights to it and used it as a catalog cover. Adrian began going to tournaments and selling prints. Demand for his art began to grow. He painted when he wasn’t fishing or working, which means he didn’t paint a whole lot, but he made time for it. Then he got a camera and that took his talents in yet another direction.
“In 2004 I started working at the IGFA and I wanted to make the magazine and newsletter better, but I had no photos,” Adrian recalls. “Whenever I approached a photographer, I hit a wall when they said, ‘What will you pay me?’ So I invested in a camera got an underwater housing.”
He taught himself the intricacies that go along with taking tack-sharp photos of fish in their natural element, whether that was below the water or jumping behind a boat. Adrian traveled and attended fishing tournaments and fished as much as he could, always toting waterproof boxes with his camera gear. He is now considered one of the premiere photographers in the recreational fishing industry, with many magazine covers to his credit. He has a gigantic photo library with everything from freshwater species to blue marlin, but he says he does not paint photos. He only uses them for reference to help him create the scenes he conjures up in his mind.
His artistic style continues to evolve: “I have this perfectionist personality so I’m never satisfied,” he says. “I don’t want to show old works. They’re not an example of what my strengths are. The art develops through experimentation, growth and how you perceive things.”
With about 30 completed paintings to his credit, he is not about pumping out new paintings as fast as possible. He prefers to focus on the details rather than the end result. He started with acrylics but now paints in oils. “I like the way the oils blend,” Adrian says. “It takes longer to do. The mixing is more tedious but oils have a natural look.”
"The art develops through experimentation, growth and how you perceive things."
He’s currently working on a bluefin tuna piece inspired by a 2014 trip to Nova Scotia. “We only had two days and on the first day we went out it was unusually calm. Each of us caught our first bluefin in the 750- to 1,000-pound range,” Adrian says. “We started hand-feeding them and I jumped in. The water was cold but it was one of the best experiences of my life, swimming with something that big. They move so much water but they’re so graceful at the same time.”
Adrian, who turns 38 this year, still works for the IGFA, laying out their publications and posting on the organization’s website and social media. His phone usually goes to voicemail because he’s traveling, fishing, photographing something or in the studio painting. And lately he’s experimenting more with video. “I’m intrigued by slow-motion and and working with that type of video,” he says. “I’ll probably get more into that.” Fishing is his passion. The art and photography are his way of expressing this love of all things fishing.
“My favorite thing is to jump in the water and take photos of fish.”