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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Brainiac

Painted creatures of the deep, deep sea

And other recent highlights from the Ideas blog

There are places on Earth that almost no human will ever see, and one of the most mysterious is the extreme depths of the ocean. What is it like thousands of feet down, where life moves in complete darkness? One strange, fanciful answer comes from the late marine biologist Henry Compton, who died in 2005 in Corpus Christi, Texas, leaving behind a pair of boxes containing a series of paintings accompanied by whimsical captions and strange vignettes.

Now the work has been collected in a book, “Fire in the Sea: Bioluminescence and Henry Compton’s Art of the Deep.” Compton had seen specimens of some deep-sea animals, dredged from the bottom during deep-sea explorations in the Gulf of Mexico in the 1960s. And what he wasn’t able to see first-hand, he invented. The painting of the frilled tiger shark shown here comes with an allegorical story about a barren woman named Liu, and a caption that reads: “The Frilled Shark and the Lighted Squid were old in the deep seas before ever Formosa surfaced the waves to sail solid.”

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