SEA LIFE ART
The artist is busy with a TV show, book and an isle hotel
Whooping and hollering, the crowd parts like the Red Sea for the celebrity arriving a mere hour or so late to his own party. It's not a visiting actor, talk show host or celebrity, but Wyland -- the prolific artist and part-time Oahu resident known for his depictions of sea life and support of environmental programs.
While he may be a bit more than fashionably late, the amiable artist endears himself with just a joke and a wink or two to the crowd at Wyland Galleries Haleiwa -- but it helps that most in the audience are longtime fans, sold ages ago on the painter's artwork and genial public personality.
These are the devotees who cheerfully plunk down upward of $1,500 for marine-life paintings idealizing humpback whales, spinner dolphins and monk seals, and his more recent fascination -- abstract silhouettes in front of hot-tempered red-and-orange sunsets.
They'd made the trip to Haleiwa for a gala marking the opening of the gallery's new home. Though the Haleiwa gallery -- one of 40 nationwide -- has been a presence on the North Shore for 15 years, it moved down the road last month, setting up shop in an old KFC restaurant. Wyland said a rent increase was the main reason.
The relocation of the Haleiwa gallery was just the first in a string of projects set for this year.
His name will be imprinted on everything from a new television show ("Wyland: Visions of the Sea," currently filming in La Paz, Mexico, and making its debut on cable TV this summer), to a new book ("Hold Your Water: 60 Things You Can Do for the Blue Planet," available at Borders stores in April), to an art-science project for schools (the Wyland Ocean Challenge "Clean Water for the 21st Century," launching at the National Science Teachers Association conference next month in Anaheim, Calif.).
The front-runner project locally, though is the Wyland Waikiki Hotel, a 404-room boutique hotel outfitted with his art and the works of 14 other painters associated with Wyland Galleries. Its soft opening is set for April 15.
Wyland will own 10 percent of the hotel, formerly the Ohana Waikiki Surf, and there are plans to open up 15 to 20 hotels in his name around the country. Marine-themed paintings will hang in the lobby, elevators, hallways and rooms. Plus there will also be an artist's studio in the penthouse, for Wyland's own Waikiki visits.
Other projects down the line: An appearance on the Home Shopping Network in August, promoting a step-by-step Martin Weber kit for the painting "Kissing Dolphins"; and the 2006 Wyland Clean Water Tour, a water-conservation program stopping at zoos, aquariums, museums in summer or fall.
He is out to take over the world, one mural at a time. "I don't have a personal life. You're always going, going, going, when you're building a worldwide brand," said Wyland, who also has a current licensing deal with Disney.
Perhaps it's the familiarity in his work that appeals to the masses: Though he has dabbled in several mediums, the heart of each matter has always been the same. "I'm very faithful to marine life," Wyland said. "I spend a lot of time looking at dolphins, capturing the romantic feeling of the coral reef. It's all inspirational, and I see it in my mind's eye. I really want to show how I can get close to these animals."
Only one in the amiable crowd at the Haleiwa gallery opening was a doubting Thomas. "What happens if Haleiwa becomes another Lahaina?" Sunny Archuleta quietly wondered from his seat.
Asked about that comment later, Wyland shook off the comparison. "North Shore won't become another Lahaina. We're keeping the country the country. Look at the writers and artists here."
Except for the noted impassioned public skirmish or two in trying to protect one of his whaling wall murals from being painted over, (like the 1992 Haleiwa project that was taken down) the Detroit native has built his reputation as being the proverbial nice guy after more than 25 years in the fine arts business, and he is proud to have become a household name in Hawaii, California, Las Vegas ... the list goes on.
"Art is seen as very snobby, intellectual, but I'm very casual. I've always been that way ... I think people would be surprised that I'm a nice guy."
These days, Wyland splits his time between the North Shore, Laguna Beach, Calif., and his newest home in the Florida Keys on Islamorada. He returns to Hawaii during the winter season to continue to paint, dive and relax in between promoting projects.
STAR-BULLETIN / 1995
Wyland is known for his murals that use concrete buildings as canvas, such as the one above on Oahu.
WYLAND MADE his name through his whaling walls, life-sized murals that tell stories of endangered sea mammals on public buildings throughout the world. He earned an entry in the 1992 Guinness World Book of Records for the largest painting in the world -- No. 33, "Planet Ocean," which used 7,000 gallons of acrylic latex paint on a 1,280-by-105-foot wall.
He recently finished his latest wall, in New Bedford, Mass., and has only seven to go before completing his mission: To cut the ribbon on his 100th wall in Beijing in 2008.
IF he weren't a painter, Wyland would be a marine biologist. He started painting when he was 4 years old, depicting dinosaurs and Jurassic scenes. He said he began painting marine life in 1971, inspired by the natural world.
"Everything happens for a reason," said Wyland, who cites Jacques Cousteau as one of his continuing influences. "I had some phenomenal encounters with whales and it inspired me to paint. When I saw the whales, I saw beauty. Whether it's popular to do that or not popular, I don't worry about it.
"My most memorable experience was in Maui in 1980. I swam with humpback whales and saw a mother whale presenting her calf."
He calls his work a celebration of the sea, and said the feedback he has received has been inspirational, but he is aware that he has become a brand name. "I'm a regular person creating a message and a brand. I used to be a shy person, but after years of painting, I'm used to having an audience. I have a keen sense of people."