Angling Artist: Percy Fortini-Wright

Percy Fortini-Wright forged his path as an artist by merging his passions of fishing, fine art, and hip-hop culture with themes of nature, diversity, and spirituality.

With his fishing rod in hand, Percy Fortini-Wright climbed atop a rock that was barely protruding from the rolling surf beneath his feet. His spot was well hidden under the cover of night, with only the distant, manufactured glow of Boston to illuminate his surroundings. He sported a black wetsuit, which kept him almost invisible except for the slight shimmer of his Van Staal as he whipped a bucktail jig into the sea. It was a familiar feeling for Percy, and he recalled nights spent sneaking around the city, hopping between different types of secret spots in all-black clothing with spray paint instead of a surf rod. During those days, Percy wasn’t certain that fine art would be his calling, but he always embraced his artistic inclinations. As a result, he forged his own path as a professional artist by merging his passions of fishing, fine art, and hip-hop culture with themes of nature, diversity, and spirituality. 

Percy Fortini-Wright painted this mural named Holy Mackerel at Underground Ink Block—an old 8-acre underpass in Boston’s South End that has since been transformed into an urban park and cultural attraction.

Percy grew up just outside Boston, and due to his lifelong proximity to water, he has been fishing for as long as he can remember. He spent his free time fishing for striped bass from his father’s boat or the beach. A self-described naturalist, Percy closely studied and admired his catches, appreciating the striped bass’ fine details—the purple, green, and blue undertones combined with the acute detail in their stripes grabbed his attention early on.

Since he was young, Percy has been fond of the loud colors and unique styles used in urban art like graffiti and tagging. Both his mother and grandmother had artistic streaks, and they recognized his own abilities during his youth. His grandmother painted hyper-realistic boat scenery and harbor-scapes, highlighting the many colors and sizes of the vessels that sailed their local waters. Because his family was so artistically inclined, Percy always felt encouraged to pursue art through whichever method he felt he could best express himself. One of his greatest influences was a close family friend who indulged in urban art during the 1980s and mentored him as a graffiti artist, which solidified Percy’s path as a creator. 

As he matured, his art developed from graffiti-style writing into detailed, large-scale portraits and murals that incorporated his urban flair. Much like his grandmother’s art, he favored realism, and around age 18, he began to merge common fine-art styles with his own influences of graffiti and hip-hop. 

A few years later, Percy’s hard work and aptitude for painting earned him both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Fine Art from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. He quickly began his career as an artist doing commissioned works for small businesses; however, he became certain of his future when he received his first Van Staal as payment for a custom piece he painted for MGC Fishing Bait and Tackle in Hanover, Massachusetts.

Fortini-Wright puts the finishing touches on a large-scale striped bass and Van Staal, tying in his surfcasting background while stylistically maintaining his roots in graffiti.

Despite Percy’s ability to paint on almost any surface, he enjoys a public canvas so he can share his personality and values with the world. He has become well known for his commissioned wall murals, many of which portray the intersecting of nature and urbanization, the two greatest influences in his creative process. Still, this process is everchanging. Percy defines art as a constant refinement of self; with each piece, he tries to rein in his entire persona so that the viewer can best understand the purpose and motivation behind his work.

In his purely fish-themed art, Percy pays close attention to the detail of each individual fish scale, which is why he enjoys painting striped bass and carp. He acquired an appreciation for carp over his years of fishing, which he attributes to a fascination with their docile nature, massive size, brute strength, and high intelligence.

Recently, Percy began a series of fish-themed paintings, and he sometimes uses his own library of thousands of fish photos when it comes to selecting a subject. But, as a self-described naturalist and observational painter, he often aims to illustrate his subject as accurately and realistically as possible without referencing those photographs. In 2017, he painted a 40-foot by 7-foot wall mural for Boston’s Underground Ink Block titled Holy Mackerel. Last August, he was working on a giant piece at Boston’s Downtown Crossing, bringing life to the Orange Line subway with a mural of a koi grasped between an eagle’s talons. 

This extensive mural is located underneath Macy’s in downtown Boston.

Much like the water he fishes, Percy’s art has depth. He enjoys the idea of painting something flat and making it appear real and three-dimensional using assorted colors and shades. The same vibrance that causes his current work to pop from the canvas is a stylistic derivative of his street art and graffiti lettering. The street-art style from his youth gives life to his work by animating otherwise still images. 

Percy has been painting wall murals for almost 20 years now, and he plans to continue creating fish-based art because he believes fishing and painting are more similar than they are different. A surfcaster’s arsenal of rods is just like Percy’s arsenal of paintbrushes and spray cans; each one is a unique tool with a different weight, size, and ability to perform a specific job. 

Today, Percy finds solace in creating his own schedule because it gives him time to get on the water and disconnect from the outside world. He hopes that his urbanized, marine-themed paintings will continue to connect the observer to their natural surroundings, which is the same feeling he gets when his hook connects with a fish. 

Instagram: @percyfortiniwright

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