Artists are often good at turning life's unpleasant instances to their -- and others' -- advantage. Last year, when a shortage of rainwater parched area lakes, you might have spotted Mark Goldthwaite scouring the dirt and muck for wood. He used the wood (most of which had broken off from docks) in pursuit of his passion, or as his artistic "mission statement" reads: "The ethical treatment of unwanted and no longer loved furniture `or other` discarded treasure`s`."

Goldthwaite is a creator of the whimsical and functional. An Orlando resident since 1998, the artist specializes in designing and building fun and unusual pieces of furniture: green-legged chairs with zebra-painted seats; zigzag-designed aqua and purple chests; and gorgeous, sprawling cabinets that look antique but are ultramodern. In a word, Goldthwaite's furniture is positively funkadelic (with all due respect to the funk master himself, George Clinton).

But barren lake bottoms haven't proven to be the only pay dirt in Goldthwaite's foraging expeditions. While rummaging through Florida junk shops, he came upon a taxidermic marlin "that was just in pieces -- the fins were broken off, nobody would buy it. It was a discarded treasure that somebody caught. At one time, it was their prized possession."

Goldthwaite bought the fish and restored it, but with witty flair. "When I first started with the fish, I immediately thought, What would this look like being in a different environment, being another animal?" And so, the marlin sports a leopard skin. The artist followed by fashioning a barracuda in leopard skin trimmed with a red skirt and yellow polka-dots. He then painted makeup onto her fishy face. Upon completion, Goldthwaite christened the creation, appropriately enough, "Dressed to Kill."

Whimsy aside, rescuing and refashioning the fish provide Goldthwaite a way to stay connected to his late father who liked the sport of fishing. And re-creating these underwater creatures is a complicated process: At the very least, he spends two weeks working on just one. For starters, the fish are heavy -- that marlin weighed in at 120 pounds.

And making over such specimens means dealing with multiple dimensions. "When you're painting a fish," says Goldthwaite, "you've got to paint all the way around it. It's very awkward. There's no way to hang and paint it because you have to get a certain perspective of it. It's very difficult."

Even though Goldthwaite's studies in fine art at the University of Nevada no doubt proved helpful, it was the skills he picked up in the surfing business in San Diego that really benefited him in his ocean-inspired work. The processes of building a surfboard and restoring a fish aren't so different, it seems.

"There's ways of making a surfboard using fiberglass -- you can make it very strong -- so, I'm just curing over what has already been done. I'm not really `doing` taxidermy."

Though Goldthwaite has sold two of his "catches," two others are on indefinite display at The Peacock Room nightspot on Mills Avenue. "The End of Innocence," as the artist calls his 65-pound sailfish, is daring red, its body an elegant curve as its -- you guessed it! -- leopard-skin fin fans out above. Hanging in another space in the noirish atmosphere of the Peacock is "Jewel of the Nile," adorned in red beads and shamrocks. Shamrocks? "I guess I'm just proud to be Irish," laughs the artist.

Perhaps Goldthwaite should feel proud for other reasons as well. The area's artistic community has embraced his "antiques of the future," as he describes them. In the past 12 months, the artist has had 15 shows featuring his unique furnishings, four of them held at the Orlando Museum of Art's ever-popular "First Thursdays" program.

Two years ago, he met local painter Julia West. Now the pair shares a house -- and creative ideas. Goldthwaite says the sharing has become particularly important to him since he works by day as a commercial artist with his partners at Tiltworks in College Park.

"Being in a production-type atmosphere, you tend to lose that freedom of art, and that's where `Julia's` influence really shows up for me -- she'll do a painting `that's` just movement and flow of color. It makes me realize that I don't have to be as structured as I am."

It's possible to find the twosome combing for wood along the Canaveral National Seashore or digging for a rat-eaten bit of stuffed fish in a small-town rummage shop along U.S. Highway A1A. What may look like junk to others could just turn out to be Goldthwaite's next work of art.

Contact Mark Goldthwaite at (407) 903-1962

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