FISH is on the walls as well as the menu at Partisan in York for the summer.

The Micklegate café and restaurant will be full to the gills with Jocasta Shakespeare’s Japanese-inspired fish artworks until the end of August.

Jocasta grew up in Wales, the Middle East and London, before escaping to India to work on a tiger reserve and then travelling around the world as a freelance journalist. She brought up two feral children in rural Derbyshire and latterly she decided to elope to the seas.

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FISH EYE: “They have their own personalities and sense of their self,” suggests Jocasta Shakespeare

“Two years ago, I started travelling, going to Nassau, Brazil, Uruguay, Columbia,” she recalled at Tuesday’s bustling exhibition launch.

From these adventures Jocasta has created fish paintings that begin with her working with the bodies of fish from local markets.”I thought, ‘let’s use Gesso’, which is like a liquid plaster and retains the impressions of a fish’s lips, eye sockets, and tail when you put it on a loose canvas, which has been prepared with layers of oil paint.”

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PLASTER IMPRESSION: “I thought, ‘let’s use Gesso’,” says Jocasta Shakespeare, at work on her fish art

From these first impressions, Jocasta then creates the fish paintings back home in her London studio, with Gesso, oils, pastels, raw pigments and glazes all playing a part in her creative process. “Anything I can lay my hands on, I use,” she said.

“Because the fish from the market is so fresh and newly killed, you get a sense of a creature at its moment of death, when it’s fighting for its life, so you get an imprint that’s more than the fish, You feel its life force, so the impression it makes has a deeper meaning.”

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FISH HEAD: One of Jocasta Shakespeare’s fish paintings

Or, to put it another way, “Jocasta follows the tradition of ‘Nature Morte’ or a fascination with the cycle of life and death, where the presence of decay or wear, even at the height of fulfilment and power, gives poignancy to beauty,” said Partisan co-owner and exhibition curator Florencia Clifford.

Along the way, Jocasta has developed a translation of the traditional Japanese Gyotaku technique – the 18th century process of recording fish catches using inks and rice paper – into her multimedia art form.

“I’m doing an adaptation of that process, where the rice paper soaks up the ink, but I’m using a different medium,” said Jocasta.

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MOTION AND COMMOTION: Another of Jocasta Shakespeare’s fish works

A rather more surprising revelation came when Jocasta said she sometimes ate the fish afterwards, once she had washed off the Gesso, the oils and the pigment, and then cooked it. “They need a very good wash, but the only things that puts me off are the red and blue oils, and the violet pigment, which are particularly toxic,” she explained.

“It tends to be on the evening of the day that I’ve spent working with the fish from the markets that I eat them.”

Jocasta is exhibiting in York for the first time, having met Florencia through a mutual friend of Florencia’s partner, Hugo Hildyard. “We’ve connected over food,” she said. “I love her appreciation of her cooking, and now I’m wanting some tips for fish recipes because sometimes they don’t taste great and need something to offset the taste of plaster!”

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ZEN: "There's something Zen-like about fish," says Jocasta

Meanwhile, Jocasta’s fascination with fish grows. “There’s something Zen-like about fish,” she suggested. “I think the more I get to know fish, the more I realise they have their own personalities and sense of their self, and that’s why they’re such mysterious creatures.”

Jocasta Shakespeare’s fish exhibition is on show at Partisan, Micklegate, York, until the end of August.