Wyland Celebrates 35 Years of Marine Life Art and Environmental Awareness

Near the Tantabiddi Entrance to the Ningaloo Reef, a newborn Humpback whale struggled to stay afloat. Closely swimming next to its mother, only the tip of its snout broke the surface – the baby didn’t know how to breathe. That’s when its mother dove below and with her upper jaw lifted her newborn high above the water. She held it tenderly in this position for about ten seconds while the calf took its first breath. Curt and Micheline Jenner, of the Centre of Whale Research at Western Australia, witnessed this in 2009 and documented for the first time this natural, breathtaking moment that’s so rare to see in the wild.

“This is only the start of an amazing journey for the calf,” Wyland says. “Over the course of its life, it will travel thousands of miles and encounter many dangers, but for now it will be safe in the protection of its mother.”

The Marine Life Artist captured this moment in his 2011 painting “First Breath Portal,” and later recreated it as a sculpture. “Humpbacks – The First Breath” is the official 35-year anniversary bronze, celebrating Wyland’s artistic journey and quest for environmental awareness.

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Wyland officially began his journey into the art world in 1978, with the opening of his gallery in Laguna Beach, Calif. A painter, sculptor, muralist, writer, filmmaker and music producer, his mission has been to showcase the “world’s finest marine life art, introducing people to the power of nature, and giving back to the communities everywhere,” Wyland writes. “[It] has redefined what an artist and an art gallery can mean to the world.”

On November 9th, 2013, Wyland visited his gallery at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort in Lake Buena Vista, to unveil his new artwork at an open-to-the-public event.

“Animals need a voice,” Wyland told me. “Painting goes further than a photograph,” he said.

“There’s a spiritual quality to art, like how you feel when you’re immersed in nature.”

He saw his first whales, two grays, when he was fourteen years old. Before disappearing into the Pacific, they stuck their fluke straight up above the water. This image has been embedded in the artist’s psyche.
“It changes you,” Wyland told me. And that’s what he wants his paintings to do – change you, inspire you.

But it’s not just through art that Wyland spreads his green message. In 2013, the Wyland Foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary. Through art and science education, Wyland and his non-profit foundation have inspired millions of young people to become ambassadors for the planet.

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He loves mentoring kids, he told me. This generation is more aware of the environment and more interested in conservation efforts, Wyland noted. They just need that extra jolt of inspiration to take action and help save our planet.

Can one person change the world? It’s possible if one is a big dreamer and doer.

Inspired by Walt Disney and Jacques Cousteau, Wyland wants to share his love for the world’s oceans through creative and innovative ways. And he’s thinking big, really big. One hundred life-size whale sculptures will be placed in cities around the world. The cities not only have to provide the land, they have to “earn” these art pieces too. That is, they have to take an active role in environmental conservation. The first sculpture was placed at the Beijing International Sculpture Park in China. (Wyland will not disclose the others’ location.) What makes the artist’s monumental project more exciting is that ten of these sculptures will be underwater.

Last fall, Wyland launched a national mural contest for K-12 students in an effort to save art education in North America. And this April the 2nd annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, sponsored by the Wyland Foundation, invites you to visit mywaterpledge.com and make a direct pledge. Besides saving money and reducing pollution, you may win a prize, like a Toyota Prius, that will make it easier to go “green.”

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At the Disney’s Boardwalk event, Wyland welcomed guests of all ages. An intimate crowd gathered around the charismatic artist as he showed us his newest work, including the “Cool Arctic Waters” orca painting. During the summer months, these beautiful animals play and feed in the Arctic waters. In the painting, Wyland recreates a scene of orcas foraging for food and enjoying the midnight sun. “It’s always fascinating to consider the lives of these beautiful animals in places that we would consider inhospitable,” Wyland writes on his website. “But they are perfectly adopted not only to survive, but to thrive.”

As Wyland began painting an original piece, a sea turtle swimming in its underwater world, “Dirty Oil” played in the background.

“Turn up the volume,” Wyland asked. He wrote the song for his Blues Planet III album.

“I will never forget your dirty oil spill,” blues artist Taj Mahal sings. “I never will forget that burning platform,” he continues, referring to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, reminding us that the fate of our oceans lies in our hands.

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