When you hear the name Robert Wyland you may not be sure whom people are talking about. But when you hear the name Wyland, you think about the talented oceanographic artist that has been providing us with incredible works of art for over 40 years. There are few who are not familiar with his outdoor whaling walls around the world and his galleries filled with art that inspire us to love the ocean and the animals that grace it.
His first wall was completed in 1981 in Laguna Beach, California on the Hotel Laguna wall. Part of that original wall was destroyed in the mid-90’s and painted over by hotel ownership. Wyland eventually purchased the building, and recreated the wall with some creative additions 38 years after he painted the original. It is now his painting studio and largest gallery. He has since completed 100 whaling walls from 1981-2008.
One of the artist’s strongest and most admired projects is the Wyland Foundation. This has been an integral part of Wyland himself for over 27 years. It is truly what drives him each and every day as he paints by the ocean in Laguna Beach, California, the Florida Keys, or Hawaii. Wyland’s artwork is what made him famous and enabled him to lead a conservation effort with support from around the world. This initiative is what motivates Wyland to get people involved as the world, the oceans, and fresh water estuaries change and need our help.
I have to be fully transparent in writing this article. I have been a lifelong fan of Wyland, the artist. I grew up at the ocean and find incredible beauty in the reality of what he paints. He brings water, animals, coral, colors and motion to life for everyone.
“Art inspires,” said Wyland. “It combines awareness with beauty. I hope my art enables people to look at the ocean and animals differently. There are over 100 endangered species in the world and one of my goals would be to make changes that enable these animals to exist for generations to come.”
While speaking with Wyland you quickly surmise that he is an intelligent, passionate and dedicated human being. His love of art goes way beyond a canvas. He became inspired at the young age of 14 during a family trip to Laguna Beach. A teenage boy from Detroit swimming in the Pacific Ocean saw a pair of gray whales in the water. That day changed his life and he has taken that experience to canvas, walls and galleries, opening his flagship location in Laguna Beach in 1978.
Wyland was also inspired by Jacques Cousteau’s underwater TV series. “I felt strongly that art could play an important role in bringing attention to environmental issues”.
He also extends that talent to a greater need for involving us to help clean our oceans, eliminate animal extinction and develop a strong connection to our youth.
“Humans are poisoning the system,” said Wyland. “It is time to combine science with conservation and stop standing on the sidelines watching our precious resources die. Just think what we could accomplish if we all became a ‘Citizen Scientist.’” “Environmental change can be a human induced project,” Wyland continued. “Earth Day was created by getting big companies and people involved in the future of this planet. We can solve the world’s environmental problems without pointing any fingers, we just all need to get on board.”
During our interview, I took the opportunity to inform Wyland of small communities like Coronado who are becoming part of his global initiative. Wyland and I had a detailed discussion about the program here in our community called Emerald Keepers. Emerald Keepers became a non-profit in 2019 started by Amy Steward, Libby Troyer and Lisa Thompson. Their phrase “Emerald Green Ocean Blue” has become a theme on the island that is inspiring our neighbors to dedicate their efforts to the same things Wyland is doing on a global level.
I presented Wyland with an Emerald Keeper sign. This is a gift given to all Emerald Keeper members who complete projects to help improve their environment. It’s made from reclaimed wood and is proudly displayed by its recipients to celebrate what they have accomplished.
Wyland was impressed with the idea and a proud recipient of the emblem. “We need visionaries like Elon Musk, Emerald Keepers, children in kindergarten, global citizens of the earth,” Wyland said. “We need to be creative and inclusive in our approach and become the solution not the problem. I feel great to have an influence on a program like Emerald Keepers. They should be proud that they took the initiative to help protect and change their neighborhood environment.”
Wyland supports Emerald Keepers and hopes to be able to participate in a Zoom call in the near future and assist in the education efforts they are promoting.
“It’s time to invite everyone in, help children discover the wonder of the ocean through art, education, and taking part in an end result that will benefit all of us”, said Wyland.
Amazing as it may seem, Wyland has actually painted with over 1 million children; he is an artist who focuses on giving back. “I actually count the artists in my head now. Helping our youth see the ocean and its animals through art, plants a seed with them. I feel like we are working together creatively to make a difference.”
What does the future hold for one of the world’s most talented and inspiring artists and conservationists of our generation? “My next project is to complete 100 monumental sculptures in 100 great cities” said Wyland. “The sculptures will be of whales and endangered and threatened animals. Ten of them will be placed underwater.”
His intention for some of the sculptures being underwater is obvious as we talk. These underwater pieces of art are a continuation of the legacy Wyland leaves for us and our children. “We all need to be water wise and dedicate ourselves to a cleaner planet. Cleaner oceans enable generations to see these sculptures.”
This incredible project will be yet another example of a man who stands behind what he asks the rest of us to help him accomplish.
“I love being able to get into the hearts and minds of everyone,” Wyland said with his signature smile. “We should look for the good in all. Each place has beauty and we should strive to protect it.”
When you spend time with someone who is devoted to nature the way Wyland is, you walk away feeling there is so much we can do to help.
Wyland explains, “what we do to nature we do to ourselves. My greatest reward and gift would be to have clean oceans and fresh water estuaries,” said Wyland. “Then I know all of our hard work has been successful”.
If you want to participate in Wyland’s global initiative go to wylandfoundation.org. Your help supports the Wyland Foundation’s efforts to inspire millions of children and families to protect our marine life, ocean, lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands.