“If a picture is worth a thousand words, what would a 200-foot mural do?” Touted as one of the most influential artists of the 21st century, Robert Wyland, known simply as Wyland, has dedicated his life to educating millions of students around the world on how to become knowledgable stewards of our oceans, lakes, estuaries, and wetlands through the work of his non-profit foundation.
“The ocean was always a part of who I was,” he recalls. “We came from the ocean.”
Because people rarely see the world beneath the vast blue surface of our oceans, Wyland hopes the grand scale of his murals translate to an understanding of the magnitude of these majestic creatures and ultimately a love for their well-being. Wyland, who started painting at age 4 became fascinated by the renowned French explorer and pioneer of marine conservation Jaques Cousteau.
“I saw him as a poet and wanted to be like him.”
Wyland spent his high school years engrossed in books on whales after an up-close encounter with two gray whales at age fourteen on a trip to Laguna Beach, California where he now resides. The city has a rich history as an art colony and was the first location of Wyland’s landmark life-size mural of mother and calf grey whales, spanning an incredible 140 by 28 feet. Wyland also credits the whimsical style of artistic visionary Walt Disney as helping to shape his methodology. When probed on how many of these murals he planned to paint, he threw out a nice round number. “One hundred.”
Committed to his word, Wyland’s “whaling wall” murals can be found in over 18 countries around the world, many of them gifts to the cities that host them. He estimates his works are seen by over a billion people each year, a effective way to communicate his dedication to conversation of these spectacular animals. Through the beauty of art, he believes children especially develop a unique engagement with nature and in turn will work to preserve it. The Wyland Foundation offers a plethora of ways to get involved through kids painting programs, classroom science education, live events, art contests, and teachers resources just to name a few. The foundation pledges to save over 700 thousand gallons of water with the help of more than a million children worldwide.
His watershed piece came in the form of Wyland’s whaling wall, Hands Across the Oceans. This 2400 square foot, half mile long series of canvas murals in Chaoyang Park, Beijing, is the collaboration with student artists from 110 countries around the world in celebration of the Green Olympics.
At age 62, Wyland continues to paint every day including live exhibitions like the celebration of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Congress in Hawaii.
“The Hawaiian Islands have significant levels of biodiversity that are under threat from humans,” he says.
“The image I’ve created for the Hawaii Pacific Pavilion is a salute to the world coming together in Hawaii as we all work toward global solutions to protect the rich biological heritage.”
Watch the whole interview here:
To find out more about Wyland, his foundation, or art pieces follow the links below:
Written by AHWD contributor Robin Queen