For the past two decades, Chinese artist Lin Hanbing has been producing beautiful artworks made exclusively out of discarded fish bones. He’s passionate not only about his creative process, but also about raising awareness on social and environmental issues through his work.
Lin, 51, happens to be China’s only fish bone artist. After graduating from an arts and crafts university in 1989, he began to experiment with using fish bones, drawing inspiration from Chinese calligraphy. “When I was young I felt fish bones were very beautiful, and they gave me a lot of inspiration,” he said. “They’re shaped like the strokes of ancient Chinese calligraphy – primitive and elegant.”
“The Chinese characters in our language originated from oracle bones, which then developed into an embryonic form called Da Zhuan,” he explained. “Da Zhuan consists of many strokes and are similar to the bones in fish, especially the bones found in the belly of a fish.”
No one had heard of fish bone art when Lin first began to work with the medium. For a while, he had to live off money borrowed from friends and relatives, but he never stopped believing that his innovative craft would provide people with a “new kind of visual pleasure.” And he was right – today, his work attracts thousands of admirers to the Oriental fish bone art gallery in Xiamen. The gallery displays about 100 fish bone art pieces from his own collection of over 1,000 works.
In his early years, Lin would work with the fish bones that he saved after large meals. But he now collects raw fish bones from food stalls, restaurants, and fish processing factories. He then puts the bones through a 10-step cleaning process, including flesh removal and anti-corrosion. “If you gathered all the bones I have collected over the years you could fill several trucks,” he said. “I mean the bones are free considering people just throw them away. All I have to do is pay for the labour cost.”
Once the bones are ready for use, Lin arranges them to create beautiful Chinese landscapes and abstract pieces. His central theme is always environmental protection. For example, his piece called ‘A Tree Flies with Birds’ is meant to raise awareness towards air pollution in China.
Lin is now interested in passing on his knowledge to the next generation. He already has a female apprentice working under him. “The first time I heard about fish bone art, I was mystified,” she said. “However, after studying with my teacher, I began to see what this kind of art meant and learnt a lot. It looks very simple, however, only when you really study it will you truly see how much depth there is to it.” Lin also plans to recruit more trainees through an online selection process.
Lin Hanbing’s fish bone paintings are reminiscent of Elena Zhuravskaya, an amateur artist from Kiev, Ukraine, who uses fish bones, scales and even their boiled eyes to assemble amazing paintings on velvet canvases.