Growing up on the Pacific coast in Prince Rupert, British Colombia, Canadian artist Kelli Clifton has always harbored a special love for the natural world, and much of her work is dominated by coastal themes. Her proximity to the coast has also allowed her to witness marine mammals in their natural habitat. Perhaps because of her upbringing, it was only a matter of time before the documentary “Blackfish” drew her in.

Before watching the film, she tells OGP that she “didn’t know very much about orcas being held captive” as “it isn’t very common to hear of families [from her community] going to SeaWorld.”

She first heard of “Blackfish” through a friend who showed her a trailer, and almost immediately, she decided she had to go and see it. Once the Vancouver Film Festival came around, she set out from Victoria to attend the festival and finally watch the film.

“Some thought I was silly to go through such a great deal just to see one film, but I knew it was something I had to do,” Clifton tells OGP.

As she writes on Facebook, “After viewing the film, my heart felt broken. For months, I couldn’t stop speaking about all that I had learned in relation to Blackfish. Eventually, speaking about it wasn’t enough for me.”

And so, she set out to “speak about” what she had witnessed through another communicative form – painting — and it was Tilikum’s story that she ended up telling.

“Tilikum’s story moved me in a way that made me want to tell the whole world about the unjust life that this orca has had to live. My painting of Tilikum is my interpretation of a very sad story, one that I believe people should to be aware of,” Clifton tells OGP.

Kelli Clifton

Many of us have heard the same story Clifton has about Tilikum through “Blackfish,” yet her painting illuminates his suffering in a new way – one in which we come face-to-face with all of the horrors he has been through in a single, heart-wrenching image.

On her Facebook page, Clifton describes the symbolism of her haunting design:

The head pointing down symbolizes death, while the collapsed dorsal fin is a result of being held captive. Many of the cut-out marks along the body are rake marks made by other whales’ teeth. The three faces are to [honor] those who lost their lives, and the [colors] used are inspired by those found in SeaWorld’s logo.

With this design now completed, she says she’d like to “make prints and donate a portion of the proceeds to one of the charities mentioned on Blackfish’s website.”

Ultimately, it is her hope that “through sharing this story, people will think twice before supporting an organization such as SeaWorld.”

To view more of Clifton’s artwork, be sure to check out her website gallery.

Lead image source: Loadmaster / Wikipedia Commons