Many of us see a fish as a fish and the sea as simply blue. Not Virgin Islands' marine artist Paul Borghi. The Massachusetts native and near 20-year resident of Water Island sees this same sea life in all its three-dimensional and colorful glory. That's why Borghi's art, everything from glass-carvings, logos, posters and T-shirt designs to fine art, is so popular.
Borghi is a natural born artist. "I remember the nuns in Catholic School would bring me from classroom to classroom to draw pictures of dinosaurs and elephants on the blackboards for the other students," he says. "I was only in first grade at the time."
Borghi's mother and father encouraged his artwork. "My father had artistic abilities and would draw caricatures of W.C. Fields and Shirley Temple, but he gave it up at age 16," Borghi says.
In high school, Borghi won first place awards in several art shows. He entered the U.S. Air Force, worked as a medic in Vietnam and then used the GI Bill to attend Vesper George School of Art in Boston and earn a commercial art degree.
"I didn't like living in the city. When I heard that antelope outnumbered people in Wyoming, I packed up the family and moved," he says.
There, in the great outdoors, Borghi turned his attention from the more restrictive realm of commercial art to fine art. His subjects were Rocky Mountain wildlife like elk, antelope and grizzly bears. He eventually earned a fine arts degree from the University of Wyoming.
While in school, he read an article in the Smithsonian about glass carving. Borghi experimented with the techniques, and his first piece depicted a grizzly bear pulling a trout out of a stream. As soon as he completed it, the carving was sold. His second design, a lion, sold quickly too. These fast sales and his enjoyment of the new medium enticed him to continue in the art of glass carving.
In 1974, Borghi and a couple of friends chartered a 41-foot sailboat and cruised in the Virgin Islands for three weeks. "I loved it and knew I wanted to come back to the islands again sometime," he says.
Back home, he opened his own graphic arts studio. "I named it Island Bound Graphics because I planned to move to the Virgin Islands when I earned enough money," he says.
That time came in 1990. He worked first as a bartender to set up his contacts and his studio. It didn't take long before he was firmly implanted in the local art world, concentrating in the areas of glass-carving (trophies for fishing tournaments and elaborate undersea scenes for power yachts), air brush designs for murals and T-shirts, and custom design work.
Then, Hurricane Marilyn hit in 1995 and Borghi's studio and all his supplies were destroyed. This disaster actually proved fateful and catapulted him into a whole new realm. Marc Blazer, owner of Blazing Photos, hired Borghi over several other graphic artists he interviewed to use high-tech computer techniques to restore damaged photos, even though Borghi knew little about computers.
"Marc said it was easier to teach an artist about computers than the other way around," he says. "The job was a lifesaver. I learned so much and was able to earn enough to rebuild my supplies and studio."
Rafe Boulon, chief of resource management for the Virgin Islands National Park, saw Borghi's work and hired him to create three fish identification posters for deep water, inshore and shallow water species. The posters are still available and are distributed to local schools. "I learned so much by doing that project," Borghi says.
Borghi's career took another evolution in the early 2000s when he earned his captain's license and started working as second captain with Steve Malpere on Peanut Gallery Sportsfishing Charters. He continues to captain today for David Pearsall, who bought the charter fishing business, now called Big Wave.
"I go out on charters in the morning and do my art in the afternoon," says Borghi. "It's wonderful. I see tuna, mahi, wahoo and also whales, dolphin and whale sharks. It really helps with my painting."
Not all of Borghi's encounters with the sea have been pleasant. He came face-to-face with a huge bull shark while swimming off Honeymoon Beach on Water Island and suffered from the effects of a ciguatera-contaminated mackerel for almost a year.
Still, he says, "I love living and doing my art on Water Island. After all, whenever I need inspiration, I just go to the beach. The water is my life."