Ray Troll’s paintings have been described as hallucinatory and scientifically surreal. But what do you expect when your muse is 67 million years old. By Vince Hempsall
Ray Troll is strolling toward his art gallery on Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska, speaking to me on his cell phone when he spies a kingfisher. He stops, admires it, and tells me the lack of cruise-ship traffic due to the global COVID-19 pandemic means he’s been seeing more wildlife, including harbour seals in the creek and whales in Tongass Narrows. It’s no surprise Troll is in touch with his natural surroundings. The 66-year-old fine artist and self-described “paleo nerd” has been fascinated by fauna, specifically dinosaurs and fossils, since he was a child. “I picked up a crayon at age four and drew a Tyrannosaurus,” he says, “and I’ve been drawing them ever since.”
Born into an American Air Force family, Troll lived around the world with his five siblings before getting a Master of Fine Arts at Washington State University in the city of Pullman, south of Spokane. He graduated in 1983 and accepted an invitation from his older sister to run a fish shop in Ketchikan, on Revillagigedo Island, a five-hour ferry ride from Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
That job lasted the summer, but he never left. He now makes his living as an artist, specializing in colourful paintings of both living and prehistoric beasts, which he makes into prints, puts on t-shirts and sells to tourists. He’s also collaborated on many books and projects with various scientists, including Kirk Johnson, the sant director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, with whom he created this fossil map of British Columbia and Alberta. In fact, Troll has so many scientist friends that an extinct genus of herring, the Trollichthys, was named after him, as was a species of ratfish found near New Zealand called Hydrolagus trolli.
At the end of our phone conversation, I ask Troll if he’d like to be discovered as a fossil by future generations. “Kirk taught me there are two states in the world: erosion and deposition,” he says. “Ketchikan will probably erode away. If you want to be a really good fossil, move to New Orleans.”
To find the full-size version of this map, visit www.trollart.com.