Artists Evoke Care for Oceans at Blue Vision Summit 4

Opening the Blue Vision Summit 4 in Washington, D.C., on Monday, author and ocean advocate David Helvarg said of Congress, “A lot of them are hardwired like sharks, they respond to stimuli like money or votes” (see Helvarg’s posts in Ocean Views).

The summit, which ends today, is “the biggest ocean day on the Hill,” said Helvarg. (Learn more about the Summit.)

In addition to a week of panels, workshops, and events, Blue Vision Summit includes meetings with members of Congress (aka lobbying), with the goal of increasing protection for the marine environment.

Blue Vision brings together a broad group of “seaweed rebels”–local ocean activists and advocates–as well as some familiar names like National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle, Ralph Nader, and Jane Lubchenco. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Representative Sam Farr (D-CA) also presented.

As Helvarg pointed out, ocean issues don’t just affect those living on the coasts, they can reach deep into our everyday lives through our food, climate, the air we breathe, and much more. To underscore that point, Helvarg noted that some 20 activists from Colorado were in attendance, even though they live a long ways from the sea.

Wyland whale mural
Wyland has painted 100 whale murals around the world to raise awareness.

After he called for a rowdy “seal lion bark out for the ocean,” Helvarg introduced a panel of artists whose work inspires care for the oceans. That panel was moderated by Jim Toomey, the creator of the Sherman’s Lagoon comic strip.

Toomey said the purpose of any art is to inspire emotion. “We hope it changes us a little bit permanently,” he said.

Wyland, the painter who has spent the last 30-some years creating massive murals of whales around the world, spoke on the panel in his trademark ballcap. Wyland said he was inspired by Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle. “Without water we don’t have anything,” said Wyland.

The artist added that it took him three years to convince the city of Laguna Beach, California, to let him paint his first whale mural, back in 1981. He has produced 100 “Whaling Wall” murals since.

“I dedicated my life to creating public art that inspires action,” said Wyland. He added that he frequently paints with kids. “Kids get me because I don’t really have a job, I tag buildings,” he joked. (He also makes educational films.)

Gorgeous eco-art by Asher Jay
Gorgeous eco-art by Asher Jay
Asher Jay comments on plastic pollution in this artwork
Asher Jay comments on plastic pollution in this artwork.

Another panelist, Asher Jay, uses graphic design, fashion, painting, and performance art to create evocative works that inspire concern for the planet. In one project, she made art to order out of pizza boxes, and then delivered it to homes. In another, she “founded” a country called The United Flotsam of Garbagea that is comprised of giant oceanic garbage patches. She also uses her fashion background to turn clothing scraps into gorgeous designs.

For World Oceans Day 2012, Jay created Message in a Bottle, in which she painted plastic bottles, each inspired by the work of a different ocean activist or advocate.

“I don’t want people to get defensive, we don’t have the right to point fingers,” Jay said about her work.

Panelist Courtney Mattison talked about her work at the intersection of art and marine biology. She makes beautiful sculptures inspired by coral reefs, and is working on a line of home decor items that “inspire ocean conservation.”

Courtney Mattison’s coral sculptures evoke awe.

Mattison also produced a series of models of landmarks, like the U.S. Capitol, covered with coral to evoke concern for sea level rise.

Panelist Claudio Garzon makes sculptures from trash (see video above) and teaches disadvantaged kids in Los Angeles to explore their creativity while learning about the oceans. In one project, they filled the bellies of paper albatrosses with plastic beads to signify the problems of ocean pollution.

“Plastic is all around us, it’s something we become numb to,” he said.

Wyland added that artists need to advocate for keeping art and nature education in schools.


Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science,,,, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.

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