Wyland Makes Waves In Waikiki, Beijing and Beyond

The Artist Talks With B On An Olympic Commission, and Yet Another 25 Year Project

Wyland Makes Waves In Waikiki, Beijing and Beyond

The name "Wyland" has come to be synonymous with "ocean art" and "whale murals" to anyone who resides between the Hawaiian Islands and the California Coastline. The artist who has made a living out of covering building facades and canvases with lifelike images of the ocean's mammoth is now in the homestretch of a 27-year project: The creation of 100 whale murals, which began in Laguna Beach, California, in 1981. Time to retire, you might ask" Hardly. We caught up with Wyland just as he returned from completing the official painting for the upcoming Olympics in Beijing. Prior, he spent two days tagging a signature plane for Aloha Airlines ("My $100 million canvas", said the artist), and announced to B on Hawaii that he is about to embark on another 25-year project that will take him to 100 cities across the globe. Read on and follow our exclusive interview with arguably the most successful "Green Artist" on the planet, on the eve of the opening of his first signature hotel -- right here in Waikiki.

B on Hawaii: So, where are you right now, as we speak?

Wyland: I'm in Laguna Beach, standing on a ladder in my studio, talking to you while painting a series of underwater scenes, like coral reefs, turtles and fish. Classic marine stuff.

B: You're a pretty busy fellow. Someone named you the planetary "Green Artist", and it seems to have led to some great things.

Wyland: It really has. I just got back from Beijing, where I completed "Stronger, Faster, Higher" -- the official painting of the coming Olympics, which they are calling the "Green Olympics". Somehow, I fit in there, I guess. They named me the preeminent global Green Artist. It's a trip!

B: And the signature plane for Aloha Airline, which I hear you did in two days, and upped the value of their plane by $5 million. How'd this whole thing begin?

Wyland: Well, the marine life stuff started in 1971, when I was 14 years old. But I was an inspired artist at 4 years old, sketching dinosaurs and things in Detroit, where I grew up. Then, I saw this magical thing called the Jacques Cousteau show. It was all about the ocean for me after that. In 1978 I opened the Wyland Galleries in Laguna Beach -- which was really a simple evolution of classic marine art. I thought of it as a celebration of the sea, not the conquest of it -- which most of the aquatic art until then was really about. Conquering; not for me. And my art's still evolving.

B: This all seems so well-timed, what with this global turn towards green everything and increasing use of natural resources, conservation and so forth.

Wyland: With all the clean water prevention, I seem to be in the right place for the 21st century. And it's led to some great things for the distribution of my art as well. There are now about 400,000 Wyland collectors in more than 70 countries. I have a non-profit called the Wyland Foundation, where we go to schools and preach clean water preservation and such. We just put the whole program in to Spanish for use here in The States and South America, and we are about to present the free curriculum to the United Nations -- for all 192 affiliate countries to use -- as they wish. We've been on the front line of conservation for 25 years now. And now, the rest of the world seems to be catching on.

B: And yet it's a career that began playing with paints. That's gotta feel good.

Wyland: Yeah, it's a hoot. I consider it a hobby that got out of control. I'm friendly with Jimmy Buffet, and we say all the time, that we like to give back what we can, but we like to do it quietly. My art, his music -- they're both lifestyles -- that allow us to give back.

B: How long have you been coming to Hawaii?

Wyland: More than 20 years. I fell in love as soon as the plane landed the first time. Now I split my time between Laguna, Florida and Hawaii. Perpetual summer for me, all the way. If I'm not painting, I'm diving or working with kids in schools about one or the other. You get such a great, creative energy when giving back to the kids. It's wonderful. One cool story: The last time I was in Hawaii was this May, around Mother's Day, putting the finishing touches on our hotel. Aloha Airlines let me paint that plane, which was a blast. Then, I flew on its inaugural flight to Orange County, which is where my mom lives. They brought her to the airport, walked her out to the runway as we came in, and gave her a lei. She got to see the plane her baby boy painted all over. It was cool.

B: Tell me about this "last wall" thing. Sounds like a mid-life crisis...the idea of someone successful doing their "last" anything: the whole reason they became famous and so forth. It's very Barbara Streisand.

Wyland: That's funny. Well, this certainly isn't the end of anything. I've just been doing the whale murals for a long time, and there's so much art I want to tackle. So I said I would do my 100th wall, and then move on to another medium. So, I will do this wall in Beijing, which Anheiser Busch is sponsoring, and move on to sculpting aquatic scenes, which I will put in 100 cities over the next however many years. 25 maybe. I'm only 50, so I have a lot of years ahead of me. That's young for an artist.

B: And you now have a hotel, of course. Tell us how that came about.

Wyland: Well, really, I was put up a number of years ago in a hotel in San Francisco called the Triton, where I stayed in the Jerry Garcia Room. They have all these themed rooms, where various people got to put their signature touches on the dホcor. I thought it was really cool. So in return visits, I stayed in the Graham Nash room, the Carlos Santana suite, and so on. Then, a friend of mine from San Diego [Ed Bouchore] bought the building in Waikiki and thought about making it a Tommy Bahamas-themed hotel. Then, he walked in to the Wyland Gallery and decided that this was the way he wanted to go. He called me, and we set out to design an amazingly different hotel. We literally gutted it. It took 8 months, and I designed every one of the 405 rooms. It was quite the creative challenge.

B: So what is the vibe at the hotel? Are there other artists represented?

Wyland: The spirit of water runs through the hotel. We are still inputting a water feature that will be very unique. You really melt in to the place, it's a great experience. Outside by the pool is a big fountain with a bunch of dolphin sculptures and whales and things. You can hear it from the balconies of the rooms and such. Each floor has a different piece of art. There are literally millions of dollars of art in the hotel -- and we will probably put in a Wyland fine art gallery on the ground floor, plus pieces from my jewelry line with Maui Divers. Then, all artists that are affiliated with the Wyland Artists will get their own rooms to design. So far, a few have done theirs. We have 14 others still planning theirs out.

B: And did you design one room with any perks?

Wyland: Of course! The penthouse suite will be my live-work studio -- but people can rent it when I'm not in it. You will literally be able to smell the oil paints when you stay there. It's nearly complete.

B: Any other pots you have your hands in"

Wyland: Actually, yes. I finally tackled another dream of mine -- which was to start a record label. It's called Wyland Records, and our first album comes out in the fall. It will be called "Rhythm of the Sea" and all the great New York jazz artists I know are on it. I wrote all of the music, but I don't play on anything. Someone let me play some Polynesian percussion on one, but it's just enough that I didn't screw up the track. It's the second most fun I've ever had.

"A friend of mine from San Diego bought a building in Waikiki and thought about making it a Tommy Bahamas-themed hotel. Then, he walked in to the Wyland Gallery and decided: This was the way he wanted to go." – Wyland