Wyland Santa Monica Galleries Is Mecca,
Ground Zero for Environmental Appreciation
From starry night to starry sea, the name Wyland has become synonymous with the greatest marine life artworks of any generation. The opening of his 19th gallery on Santa Monica’s Broadway Street couldn’t be more celebratory in nature. It is Wyland’s first gallery in Los Angeles, among other of his already legendary spaces across the world. His lifetime work is a compilation of inspiring adventures brought alive through storytelling. It brings alive an artistic and social entrepreneurship perspective. Wyland finds that inspiration in all mediums, especially the ocean. The channel of his success is beautiful and compelling, a mirror into the beauty of marine life, one which thrives on approximately seventy percent of our planet’s surface.
Above the Wyland Galleries Santa Monica entrance, the tail of a whale shapes the first letter of his name: Wyland. This unique space sits a few steps from the Santa Monica Pier, peaking across an ocean view amidst a densely popular Downtown Santa Monica location. It’s not the first time Wyland has exhibited in this place either. Starting out in the 70’s he painted one of his first wall murals overlooking the pier. Since then, his career has been a work in progress of almost half a century.
Wyland is an iconic living artist in his own right and one of the highest paid in the world as well, for his ground-breaking or “building” accomplishments. Yet you first meet a mentor, friend and local surfer from Laguna Beach. His enthusiasm and hard work transparently overlap into a down-to-earth character. Darlene Wyland, his mother, tells me he has always called himself Wyland. At age three his first sketches in random places around the house were a sweet hint to his Darlene for paper and paint, the young artist’s very first initiative. Many times, we wonder if children know what they want to be when they grow up. Wyland surely did.
Darlene, the first woman forklift driver at the Chrysler Automotive plant in the 1970’s, raised her four boys in Michigan. When Steve Wyland, his brother, turned 16 and with a new driver’s license in hand, the family took a trip to Laguna Beach, California and eventually Hawaii, where his grandmother and aunt lived. “He said, ‘I’m going to paint whales and dolphins for a living.’ I thought, oh my God who’s going to buy a picture of a whale? The only one that I knew was Moby Dick,” says Darlene, smiling at her son’s brave dreams.
Taking his first swim in the ocean, two gray whales raised from the depths of the water and sprouted right before that dreamy blue eyed 14-year-old Wyland. It was a life changing trip, most certainly a confirmation with a special message that again awakened his imagination to unimaginable depths. From that moment on, painting marine life became his dream and legacy.
“I’m more of a sculptor than a painter, but I do both,” says Wyland. Most people that have heard of Wyland from the mainstream media are familiar with his popular Art Studio DVDs, a series of insightful painting videos showcasing the technique of marine life art to aspiring enthusiasts. But soon enough you realize that his artwork takes shapes, beyond canvas or video. It is a reflection of his surroundings. The first Wyland canvas takes shape underwater and his vision is to take everyone along on his dives. “What if Van Gogh had painted under water?” he says. In Wyland’s Starry Sea, Vincent Van Gogh’s portrait is surrounded by fresh water fish that match the flaming color of his hair. Below his portrait, on the same canvas, is Van Gogh’s artwork upside down. A large black octopus blends in perfectly in the color of the night’s water and above it a series of swirls recreate Van Gogh’s night sky, this time under the ocean.
Wyland’s true talent is to add a touch or Renaissance anywhere he goes. Paintings of Disney characters that come alive under the ocean, sculptures of sharks, whales and mermaids were just a few of the characters swimming their way among the sea of Wyland enthusiasts last Friday. Professors, scientists, art collectors, students and many other people that he has inspired over the years, he tells me, “will be here.” He is also heartened and proud to have painted with over a million children. “When you see their art and talk to them you know they’re committed to having a healthy planet. They’re smarter than us.”
Santa Monica College Marine Biology Professor Benjamin Kay is one of those “children.” In 2011 Kay was nominated and had won the Wyland Foundation Earth Month Hero Award for his teaching contributions. He is passionate reaching out to his students about the perils of environmental issues and has a unique appreciation of Wyland’s art, two much-needed perspectives which beautifully combine. “Art shows us the beauty and sometimes the lack of it, the problems caused by humans. Art can inspire us through the horrific images or the beautiful ones. Different people connect with different sides. Wyland’s art is beautiful and people appreciate it. When they go out into nature, we see that sometimes nature is not so beautiful, it has too many footprints…,” says Kay.
The 2017 Wyland National Mayor’s Challenge for Water had 4,800 cities participate towards a 2-billion-gallon water conversation pledge across the United States. It includes six common sense actions through which we conserve resources, including reducing energy use and food waste. Even more, in the next ten years, The Wyland Foundation will lead a joint partnership with the United National Environment Program for the World Water Pledge to engage all people in the sustainable use of our planet’s oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. The website is currently encouraging people to save beyond 5 million gallons of water and take 800,000 actions. “If you want to protect the water in America, you have to protect it in China, Cuba and every other spot on earth. It’s all connected.”
Wyland is renowned for painting some of the world’s largest outdoor murals. These murals mirror the real-life size of his favorite creatures, the whale, and are located extensively across the world. Twenty-seven years after his 1981 Whaling Wall in Laguna Beach, Wyland finished “Hands Across the Ocean” in Chaoyang Park, Beijing, China. In honor of the Green Olympics celebration with his 100th wall, he completed a world record promise. “Hands Across the Ocean” consists of 54 panels and is one of the world’s longest murals at 2,430 Feet Long x 10 Feet High. Thousands of children helped him over a two-week period. It features habitats and wildlife of all 205 Olympic-member countries. The 100 Whaling Walls included 13 countries and a Guinness Book of World Records recognition for the “Planet Ocean” mural as the largest in the world. Simply he adds, ““I said I would do 100 walls. I do what I say.”
A new legacy for the marine life artist will be 100 sculptures in 100 great cities, hinting at the City of Santa Monica as one host, a place that he calls “ground zero, the Mecca for everyone that would like to protect the environment.” In the next 25 years, ten of these sculptures will be underwater. Wyland constantly reaches to embrace his fans with compassion and beauty. The creatures brought alive through sculpture will be inspired from the United Nations threatened species red list.
The gallery is a breathtaking dive under the deepest water. The showcased artworks expand the galleries space, each into a world of its own. You lose track of time under Wyland’s ocean. He goes against your regular artist stereotype too: a talkative, popular, an extroverted force of waves in the art world. Even more, he is a hybrid of talent and success: an artist, scientist and entrepreneur. Wyland’s treasure is an unparalleled enthusiasm for life to move any generation. His sharp blue eyes equally celebrated by his fans, are mirrors into the world’s marine life, an art genre which he has made popular across the years. A Jacque Cousteau of the 21st century, the scientist that has also inspired his work, is only a kind compliment to the unique platform which Wyland has built and continues to. He carries the torch of his generation, an underwater flame carried through the deepest waters that reveals a new world. “Saving the environment, the ocean, doesn’t have to be negative. There are a lot of positive things going on.” It is up to the new generations, the students, professors and scientists that he has inspired, to assure the continuity of this marine life story.
Photography Credit by Jennifer Roberts, Diamonds Mirror © 2017
A special thank you note to Wyland Galleries Santa Monica Director Michael Muñoz for welcoming Diamonds Mirror into/under and beyond the world of Wyland. Muñoz is a former performer, stunt artist and professional surfer.
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