Rody, a fish-loving scuba diver stranded in land-locked Texas, paints from her experiences in her native Florida and by studying the inhabitants of the aquarium, which have been gathered from across the world. She applies acrylic to canvas with a heavy hand, brushing the paint into textures to create water movement, coral, and underwater plants. Four of the paintings mark the entrances to the glass tank walkways; almost a dozen more fill the walls of a gallery between the conservation breeding room and the bathrooms.
She uses an Impressionistic style in which dabs of different-colored paint blend to make the glistening side of a fish in motion or the mottled shell of a sea turtle. That, combined with her textures, makes the paintings look like the underwater photographs taken by scuba divers at the Great Barrier Reef and other places where brightly colored fish dart through turquoise water, white sands, and brilliant plants. But she paints more than just Technicolor sea life. Two paintings show translucent creatures swimming across a black background. One is a jellyfish. Several feet away in a black-light tank, a number of glass-like jellyfish propel their umbrella-shaped frames across dark waters. Many other paintings can be matched with their inspirations.
The aquarium's other new addition would make an interesting, if not challenging, model for Rody. The Pacific octopus, which moved in just last week, occupies a red-lit tank on the back wall near the Flooded Amazon Rainforest. It shares its tank with several flower-like anemones but seems most content attaching its tentacles to the front of the glass tank and pulling itself around.
Besides the new Fishart exhibit and the octopus, the aquarium has another change: The sharks are not currently on display. Two stuffed sharks still hang above the tank, but the real ones aren't there. However, there are plenty of other dangerous sea dwellers to peruse. A school of piranhas occupy a tank in the back right-hand corner with tetras and other smaller, prettier fish. Don't worry. The little fish are safe. Piranhas eat only diseased or wounded fish unless they're starving or provoked. Visitors can watch them dine at 2:30 p.m. every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The aquarium also has electric eels, stonefish with scales that look like rocks, a stingray, and a pair of American alligators. Other oddities include fish that live in the desert, walking batfish, glass catfish, and blindfish and salamanders that live in caves.
Then there are Rody's favorite subjects--the exotic fish, crustaceans, and turtles. The aquarium showcases fish from all the major bodies of water from the Trinity River to the Nile and the Gulf of Mexico to the Red Sea. There are starfish, sea horses, crabs, shrimp, and a living coral reef, plus an example of the largest freshwater fish and a 135-pound alligator snapping turtle. Its back looks like a submerged gator when it's swimming, and it eats fish attracted by its worm-like pink tongue, not alligators. Like Rody's paintings, the turtle and the aquarium's other residents will be hanging around all summer.