Wyland Stands Up for Artist’s Rights and the Environment

Marine environmental artist, Wyland, is no stranger to taking on powerful interests. He also is one the canniest and most successful visual artists to ever pick up a brush

Marine environmental artist, Wyland, is no stranger to taking on powerful interests. He also is one the canniest and most successful visual artists to ever pick up a brush. In his decades long quest to paint 100 whaling walls around the globe, he has battled with General Motors over covering his 108 foot mural in Detroit. When the Aquarium of the Pacific opened in Long Beach, it attempted to have his 116,000 square foot whaling wall that covers the nearby Long Beach Sports Arena removed. Officials there initially thought too many people would be confused and think it was the aquarium.

Wyland’s latest battle is with the California Coastal Commission. For more than a decade on a handshake agreement, the commission has used one of his most popular and enduring images, “Tails of Great Whales”, on California vehicle license plates. Vehicle owners pay a premium to use one of 11 different specialty plates like Wyland’s, which is one of the most popular. The extra income is distributed to groups for such things as beach cleanups, environmental education and wheelchairs able to move in the sand.

Earlier this year, Wyland requested a percentage of the profits from sales go to fund his nonprofit ocean conservation foundation. The Coastal Commission rejected the idea and the result is a flurry of news stories in California media regarding the brouhaha. Wyland was quoted in a recent LATimes.com news story:

“At the end of the day, the whale tail is my art and my idea, and I own the rights to my intellectual property,” Wyland said in an interview Tuesday from his Laguna Beach studio. “I won’t be stepped on: I’m sticking up for artists’ rights, for the common person. I’m sticking up for the oceans and the coast big-time. We’re not going away.”

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This issue is likely to be where most will take sides. It’s unfortunate to see this happen as up to this point it appears to have been something very good for both Wyland and the California Coastal Commission. Wyland’s success as an artist, environmentalist and entrepreneur are admirable, enviable and well deserved. He is mentioned in my book as an artist whose business and marketing is one any artist seeking to establish a global presence as an artist can emulate. His success is easier to observe and recognize than to duplicate, but it nevertheless is worthy of studying for those with great ambition.

I, for one, hope a compromise can be reached. The relationship has been profitable for all involved to this point. It would be sad to see it dissolved when a mutual agreement was possible. Wyland isn’t asking for th money to profit himself, but rather to promote his foundation which does worthy work in helping create awareness for the fragility and beauty of marine life. But, compatible profitable relationships have been ruined over much less than what constitutes this argument, so it remains to be seen how the situation will play out.

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