The moon may guide the tides, but the ocean has a powerful pull all of it’s own. As an artist and angler, Vaughn Cochran surrendered himself to the sea long ago, finding inspiration above and below the waves. “I would say the sea embraced me,” Cochran says. “Living on or near the ocean has been an inescapable fact for me. I grew up in [it], so it has always been a part of who I am.”
Regarded as one of the most innovative artists in the world of fishing art, Vaughn’s collection of pencil drawings, watercolors, mixed media, acrylic and oil paintings represents the last 40 years of his work. A multifaceted artist, Vaughn began his career as a potter and is skilled in many mediums including ceramic sculpture, art pottery, printmaking, intaglio, silkscreen, wood carving, batik, metal working and casting.
His contemporary sporting art reflects the world of professional fishing where Vaughn was a fly fishing guide for many years. “In my travels I always had my camera and sketchbook,” he says. “I’ve filled at least three journals with ideas and notes for paintings and sculptures that revolve around fish and life on the water.” Cochran enjoys painting fish below the surface as well as using them in designs above the water. He has also moved into “seascapes” and the tropical landscapes. “I’ve always considered myself a contemporary painter who happens to paint fish. Painting in the tropics has always been my first love. I think it’s the colors, they just speak to me,” Cochran says. “Plus, I hate cold weather.”
Cochran’s favorite species to paint are the three fish that he pursues every chance he gets: bonefish, permit and tarpon. “These are the tropical game fish that make up the Grand Slam. I’m part owner in a fishing lodge in the Bahamas called Blackfly Lodge in Abaco, and these are the fish we fish for every day,” he says. “They are all difficult to catch on a fly rod, but that’s the fun of it.”
Through the years, Cochran managed to convert his art skills into the now famous Blackfly brand. It’s the ultimate commercial result of taking art and creating a brand. The Blackfly logo is used to represent the Blackfly Outfitter store on Beach Boulevard, Blackfly The Restaurant in St. Augustine and Blackfly Lodge in Abaco Bahamas.
“All of those venues feature our brand colors, and each venue is decorated with my art. I’m blessed to have ended up where I’m at today, and I never forget to be thankful because lots of my artist friends never made it and had to give up,” says Cochran. “I think it was Gary Player who said, ‘the harder I practice, the luckier I get.’ I practice every day!”
As one of St. Augustine’s original surfers in the 60s, Cochran and his friends spent every waking moment in the ocean. After leaving Key West, he took a job managing a sport fishing marina in Mexico. When one of the crew members asked if Cochran could paint a sailfish, he agreed and went to work.
“When it was finished he paid me for it, and his buddy asked if I could paint one for him. I said, ‘I’m stuck in Mexico, so I’ll start painting fish.’ I’ve never been a stickler for tradition because that’s not the training I got as an artist. At school I was taught how to think about what I wanted to do, not, ‘this is how you paint a tree.’ We were more about ‘see that tree? Paint it 50 different ways!’ What counts is what you have at the end. Did you do something that was significant? Did you move somebody? Will anybody care about what you just did? Did you say something new?”
No matter where he is or what he is doing, Cochran is always thinking in terms of color, shadows and composition, and the ocean is never far from his heart. “Someone asked me the other day, ‘Do you have to paint?’ The creative process is not something you turn on or off. If art is what you truly do, you’re stuck with it. It’s what you live and breath each day all day long. It’s what you are.”
In a portion of Cochran’s blog dated January, 2015, the Captain sums up the salt life in an eloquent post about his former brother-in-law and fishing partner who vanished in the Keys. “This is what the ocean does to you. You live on it everyday or on the weekends, and it’s magnificent, powerful, beautiful, stormy, peaceful and consuming all at the same time.”