Magazine article Sunset

The Fish Guy

Magazine article Sunset

The Fish Guy

Article excerpt

It is a quietly miraculous moment, comparable to being with Claude Monet when he first glimpsed Giverny.

"This," says Ray Troll, "is where I worked on the slime line."

Troll and I are at the Silver Lining seafood-processing plant in Ketchikan, Alaska. Here Troll worked gutting salmon, aka "on the slime line." Here he launched his only-in-Alaska artistic career.

Troll is famous, in a certain way. If you've ever visited Alaska, browsed the gift shop at ocean-oriented attractions, or just hung out with fishermen who like T-shirts, you've probably seen Troll's works: brilliant, funny, eerie depictions of the watery natural world.


For the last 21 years, Troll has lived and worked in Ketchikan, which is as sun-soaked as a cruise-ship brochure on the day I visit but gets 200 inches of rain a year. "It's as close as you can get to actually living underwater," Troll tells me as we walk along the waterfront. "If you live here long enough, you'll grow gills." He arrived in the 1980s, armed with an MFA in drawing and fueled with the artist's dueling desires for inspiration and income.

"I landed smack in the middle of a society built around fish," Troll says. "I started doing art that was riffing on them."

That he has done, in a way that seems particularly Alaskan in its successful embrace of eccentricity. Troll started producing fish riffs on T-shirts and postcards and hasn't stopped. To date he has sold more than 1 million T-shirts alone. On them, fish reign supreme: What cow skulls are to Georgia O'Keeffe, Alaska salmon are to Ray Troll. In the Troll world, cowering anglers are haunted by the spirits of the fish they've caught, and business-suited trout plot deals on Walleye Street. A giant steelhead inspires the epistemological question, FISH WORSHIP: IS IT WRONG? (A question to which I--note byline above--answer emphatically, No! …

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