Corrimal artist Jacques Charoux's coco de mer obsession

A very unusual shaped nut responsible for the origin of the mermaid myth has inspired an Adelaide exhibition from Corrimal artist Jacques Charoux.

The nut is the coco de mer, which comes from a palm that grows only in the Seychelles.

"It's a nut but its a seed as well, in fact it's the biggest one in the world," Charoux said.

"Also it grows in different sizes as well. But it's never totally symmetrical, there are some variations. It's called a double coconut sometimes because it looks like its two coconuts joined together."

It also looks like a few other things - Charoux said people have said it resembles the lungs, the brain and even the backside.

According to legend, it was this last resemblance that led to the mermaid myth. Sailors who had never seen the coco de mer before would find one floating in the water.

As it resembled a woman's backside diving into the water it led to stories of a world beneath the sea filled with mermaids and other underwater creatures.

For Charoux, who was born on the island of Mauritius, just south of the Seychelles, it was an artist's eye for distinctive shapes that drew him to the coco de mer.

He first saw one at a friend's house as a child and then later in an exhibition of tantric art in London, where he had moved to study.

"It was exhibited there because the coco de mer had become a symbol of tantric belief," Charoux said.

"I thought, 'how amazing'.

"And it stayed in the back of my mind - this object was in this amazing exhibition that probably cost a lot of money to put together.

"It was showing a lot of images and objects and sculptures, and yet one nut was also part of that show."

Due to its rarity the coco de mer has historically been a collector's item, with people spending lots of money to acquire one.

When Charoux, who moved to Wollongong 25 years ago to teach art classes at TAFE, managed to find one for himself in 1992 at a Mauritius shop, they still weren't cheap. His very own coco de mer set him back about $700.

Eventually he got his money's worth because that coco de mer has formed the basis for the more than 40 pieces in his latest exhibition Coco de Mer: An Artist's Obsession - as well as other earlier works.

"I've used it in lots of different ways, different mediums," he said.

"It's about a nut but it's also about the artistic capacity to go on and make it evolve and work in different ways using an incredible range of material."

The exhibition, at Adelaide's Museum of Economic Botany, features versions of Charoux's coco de mer done in raffia, wax, leather, faux fur and other material.

Charoux said the nut from which all these works grew will also be on display in the exhibition. "I like that because to me that's a discipline - using one thing and creating 50 pieces," he said.

Corrimal artist Jacques Charoux. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Corrimal artist Jacques Charoux. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Charoux's work features a series of sculptures inspired by the unusual shape of the coco de mer.

Charoux's work features a series of sculptures inspired by the unusual shape of the coco de mer.