Words by Richard Fleury
Hidden beneath the waves of the world's seas and oceans are more than a 1,000 fascinating, ghostly figures, some made right here in the Faversham studio of underwater art pioneer Jason deCaires Taylor.
Jason moved here a year and a half ago straight from Lanzarote, where he lived for two years building a sculpture park in the Atlantic.
Born in Dover, he spent his teenage years in Canterbury where he became a prolific graffiti artist.“ For me it was all about the sense of adventure, We used to go exploring amazing buildings. Now they're all luxury flats,” he says.
When the city's art college offered Jason a two year course instead of the one year he wanted, he went to London instead. At Camberwell art college, he had the simple but brilliant idea that would later change his life: underwater sculpture. “But in central London on zero budget it was never going to be feasible,” he says. “So I put it on the back burner.”
After college he became a scuba diving instructor, then a set designer, then a paparazzi photographer. “All the different things I've done have led me into my current job, in an unplanned way. It wasn't some big masterplan,” he says.
Ten years later he was running his own diving business in the Caribbean. It sounds idyllic but Jason felt “a bit lost”, so he decided to devote a year to doing something he loved “and see what happens.”
He literally sank his own money into his dream: creating an underwater sculpture park off the Carribbean island of Grenada. Its success – National Geographic called it one of the 25 wonders of the world – led to a five-year commission building a park in Mexico.
Today he's an established, in-demand artist with spectacular installations all over the world. He's just completed a new park at Australia's Great Barrier Reef. But his projects are often as stressful above the surface as they are serene below.
“It's still a battle, he says. “I get hundreds of emails from people wanting to volunteer, because it's working in sunny places with clear water and diving. But it's the complete opposite,” he says. “It's basically building and project managing. The greenhouse we just made in Australia was 200 tons. That's a massive civil engineering project!”
Using special cements that encourage natural growth, Jason's scupltures are designed to be transformed by their surroundings.
“Every new environment has different inhabitants, conditions, currents, sun and nutrients,” he says. When you have these amazing sponges and creatures of colonisation, it is an otherworldly effect that the human hand couldn't produce. You can never 100 percent predict what's going to happen.
“The Caribbean installatiions are vastly different from the Canary Islands ones. Even the colour of the water. There are a thousand shades of blue and the feeling they give you is very different”.
His latest work, in Cyprus, is an underwater forest of floating shapes rising from the sea bottom. Like much of Jason's work, it is comment about climate change.
“It's like a kelp forest, with trees and figures," he says. “There are businessmen hiding and children are seeking them out. I'm quite passionate about global issues we're facing because of huge corporate interests.”