Ethereal Colors Turn Animals of Science Into Modern Art


Pictures of fantastical deep-see creatures appear often on the internet, showing bizarre body shapes, alien-looking predatory adaptations and strange colors. But the sea (and land) creatures of artist Iori Tomita are very different. These animals are so common that most of us have seen them time and time again, but Tomita makes them into otherworldly visions of transparent, vividly colored creatures.


(all images via: Iori Tomita)

As a lifelong fisherman and a former student of ichthyology, Tomita has always been fascinated by the wealth of life in the sea. One fateful day, he attended a college lecture on preserving and studying the tiny bones and muscles in sea creatures. He was taken with the appearance of the preserved fish and began using the technique on his own.


The work is called “New World Transparent Specimens,” a name which reflects the hypercolored specimens’ appearance as new types of life. Tomito’s specimens start out preserved in formaldehyde, and then Tomito sets out to transform them into something that resides at the intersection of art and science. Although most of his work involves sea creatures, he has also transformed small land animals including reptiles and birds.


After stripping the scales and skin off of the fish and other creatures, Tomito soaks the small bodies in a solution that dyes their cartilage blue. The animals are then treated with a series of chemicals to dissolve their muscles and turn them transparent. Tomito stops the process just after the creatures become transparent and before they lose their shape altogether.


The final steps involve injecting a red dye to stain the bones, then preserving the newly-treated creatures in jars of glycerin. All told, the process can take an exhausting five months to one year to complete – but the end result is truly stunning. These brilliantly colored beasties allow a rare look at the inner workings of fascinating sea creatures.


According to the artist, the goal of this project is to give the world a new way to look at the normally-hidden natural beauty of ocean life. Using a well-known scientific method and presenting the results as art, Tomita creates something that is altogether more wonderful than either art or science. He connects us to other life forms on a basic level, letting us admire and study their truly unique beauty.