At first glance, Caleb Goins, 30, is like any other local — he loves fishing and spearfishing, has a young son, a laid-back attitude and a mop of unruly hair. But to see him in action, creating his pierced metal art, is to watch a very experienced artist at home with his craft.
A visitor to the Keys since he as seven years old, Goins has split his time between the Keys and Asheville, North Carolina.
“I’ve get the pirate blood from my dad,” Caleb said of his love affair with the islands. He also credits his father getting him started in the arts in 2000 when they conceived of the brand and interior finishes for Bonefish Grill in St. Petersburg, which has since gone national. But the art is all his own — no computer images and nothing cut by an automated machine — which sets his work apart from the imitators.
“I start with soap stone,” he said, gracefully sketching with something that looks like a stubby piece of chalk. Then he retraces the line again, with a thick blue marker. Then it’s all about a steady hand.
“The plasma cutter has a 40,000 degree Farenheit flame, cutting as fine as 1/16 of an inch,” Caleb said. “It’s basically like having a laser on your finger.”
His canvas? Usually it’s 1/8-inch gauge aircraft-grade aluminum — perfect for the Keys climate — but he also works in other metals. After the work is cut, Caleb uses a variety of methods to buff the piece and add texture.
His clients are mostly fishing enthusiasts such as charter captains, like Capt. Dave Schunke of the fishing television show “Mavericks.” One of his earliest fans was “The Spanish Fly” — Capt. Jose Wejebe who passed away in 2012 at the top of his television popularity. His daughter, Krissy, inherited about a dozen pieces.
“My favorite piece depicts my dad and the show,” she said, “but I really like the one of the wahoo, too.”
Krissy recommended Caleb’s work to the Under Armour apparel line when it came time to design the collection of clothing that supports the Jose Wejebe Spanish Fly Memorial Foundation. Caleb said that while exploring the graphite side of art is new, it’s not a total stretch. (“My parents told me that when I was little all I wanted was a crayon and a piece of paper,” he said.) Caleb worked on the drawings through the night for the Under Armour project so as not to be distracted by his adorable 18-month-old son, Oliver.
“He just goes nuts when he sees fish,” said Caleb. Of course, so does Caleb. He’s a lifelong angler and spearfisherman, relying mostly on memory and impression when sketching. That personal saltwater experience explains not only the physicality of the art — broad strokes and manly materials — but also the natural grace of the flowing lines, translated by a seasoned athlete in the perpetual contest between man and fish.
His pieces range from friendly little 12-inch “Zany Fish” to panels as long as 6 feet; a vignette he calls them. Many are custom pieces that tell a story: about the angler and the species he loves to fish, friends, family and even the client’s boat. Although he practically gives away the Zany Fish, most sculptures cost between $250 to upwards of $10,000.
Business owners all along the Eastern Seaboard have commissioned Caleb to create signage, too. He recently completed a huge sign for Nautilus Spearfishing in Miami. One local example is the sign plate on The Art Studio in Marathon.
“Caleb is truly gifted and talented. It was like he was inside my head and could see exactly what I wanted,” said owner Sheila Cook. “But I think I was equally impressed with his kindly manner and work ethic.”
“He’s just a good guy,” said Krissy. “Those kind of guys are few and far between. And he’s an incredibly talented artist.”