Nov. 16, 2011 -- Renowned marine life artist Wyland changed the way people think about the environment when he started painting life-size whales on the sides of buildings in the 1980s. Through his wildly popular sculptures, photography, and paintings of marine life, such as this piece Water Planet, Wyland and his name have become virtually synonymous with the importance of marine conservation.
A desire to focus public attention on the beauty and plight of our oceans unites the works of Wyland and six other ocean-minded artists in a new fine art exhibit called Beneath the Surface: Rediscovering a World Worth Conserving. Presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) at its gallery in Washington, D.C., through March 2, 2012.
In the words of one the contributors, underwater photographer Brian Skerry, please enjoy this virtual tour of "the horror and magic."
Shrimp in Anemone Luminage Light Jet prints on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper
Brian Skerry found this tiny, translucent shrimp—about half the size of a grain of rice—living inside a colorful anemone while working in Kingman Reef, a remote atoll located about 1,200 miles south of Hawaii. Kingman Reef is one of the very few remaining healthy coral reefs in the world and is considered the most pristine lagoon system on Earth.
“I became and underwater photographer because I fell in love with the sea, and I make pictures of it today because I want to protect it,” says Skerry, who has spent more than 10,000 hours underwater over the last 30 years. “And I don’t think it’s too late.”
Squid School Acrylic and resin on birch
Cleo Vilett, a marine biologist and science illustrator by training, uses fine art to explore the inherent beauty of marine life: “We live on the edge of giant, writhing oceans of life that continue to pump masses of much needed oxygen into the air we breathe,” she says.
“Yet our life-filled seas face threatening hardships such as pollution, plastics, and overfishing. In light of these challenges, I hope to bring attention to marine subjects as art while promoting conservation of the world’s oceans.”
Abundance – 2006 – Luminage Light Jet prints on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper
Brian Skerry visited a marine sanctuary in Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand in 2006, looking for a story about abundance, diversity and resilience. A contract photographer for National Geographic Magazine since 1998, Skerry had covered environmental catastrophes such as the slaughter of baby harp seals and global fish crisis.
“I want people to see what’s underwater, both the horror and the magic,” Skerry said in a TED talkin April 2010. “I think the message is clear: the ocean is indeed resilient and tolerant, to a point. But we must be good custodians.”
Merde sur la Mer Artist’s book with digital print on paper, relief prints on rice paper, chipboard, xerography and black yarn
Rachel Simmons highlights the global nature of the Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of floating trash three times the size of Texas that lies northeast of the Hawaiian islands.
She became aware of the problem after seeing a rocky enclave on the Big Island of Hawaii piled with trash. "There were plastic bins, oil drums, an endless pile of fishing nets, plastic bottles—all of it deposited, I would learn later, by global currents," she told Discovery News. "I could not get over the shock of seeing such a beautiful place spoiled by so much waste. It was that unlikely combination of beauty—the deep blues and greens of the Pacific ocean and the ugliness of all that garbage—that inspired me to make the artist's book Merde Sur La Mer."
Frog Fish (Detail from Wonders of the Sea Mixed media on paper
Rachel Simmons references 18th-century proto-scientific illustrations from pharmaceutical “curiosity” collections in her series of 98-piece celebration of marine diversity called Wonders of the Sea.
Should future generations experience these creatures only as “specimens” in natural history museums, Simmons asks, or should we summon the political will to preserve them in their natural environment?
“Through these visual conventions, this work showcases my strong desire to reveal unknown beauty and inspire wonder in the casual observer of nature in the same way that scientists throughout history have worked towards the goal of conservation through education,” she says.
Settling in for the Long Night Thread on vintage nautical chart
Dana Robson attempts to emphasize the tiniest creatures—diatoms and other zooplankton. She says she imagines them living complex inner lives, fulfilling their part of the endless cycles of the sea.
“Drawing with thread, my work asks questions about how our memories evolve over time, spotlighting the search for real connections to others and the drive for every creature to find its place in the world,” Robson explains. “Vintage maps and charts give my work a connection to the past, providing an emotional history for my subjects.”
Red Crinoid (Detail from Our Changing Seas) Ceramic sculpture
Courtney Mattison first began sculpting marine invertebrates to better understand their anatomy and ecology. Her fieldwork on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef deepened her appreciation of the threats to coral reefs and the ability of art to evoke emotional connections to them. This sculpture is part of a large-scale ceramic wall installation that was the core inspiration for the new AAAS gallery exhibit (see next slide).
Our Changing Seas Ceramic sculpture wall installation
Mattison sculpted this large-scale ceramic coral reef wall installation sculpture, seen here at its new home in the AAAS gallery, to tell the story of ongoing threats to the world's coral reef ecosystems.
Carefully researched through interviews with marine scientists, artists and ocean conservationists, the work depicts both the magic of living coral (bottom third of the sculpture) and the ills of coral bleaching (middle) and algal take-overs due to overfishing and pollution (top).
“Perhaps if my work can influence others to appreciate the fragile beauty of our endangered coral reef ecosystems, we will act more wholeheartedly to conserve them,” Mattison says.
Trash Dance Gouache painting
Karen Hackenberg presents a humorous twist on the trash washing up and breaking apart on inter-tidal beaches. “The tenuous boundary between living nature and human encroachment is the primary unifying theme in my artwork,” Hackenberg says.
“In the dislocated, discarded, mass-produced objects found littering the edges, cracks, and seams of our natural world, I see evidence of a collective post-consumer amnesia. Local beach-found flotsam, PETE water bottles, plastic toy animals and product packages are but a few of the found items that I use as subject and medium in my current work.”