Wyland, born in Detroit, owns 25 galleries, including four in California. His public-television series “Wyland’s Art Studio” originates above his gallery in Laguna Beach, where he has lived for decades. The conservation leader has alliances with the U.S. Olympic Team and Walt Disney Studios. In 2010, the United Nations released six Wyland images for a stamp issue marking the 50th anniversary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.
Detroit seems an odd place to start a career as a marine artist.
Water has played an important role from the beginning. Detroit is surrounded by water, the Great Lakes. The lakes were my ocean. Then it was, “Go west, young artist!” Actually, I visited Laguna Beach for the first time when I was 14 years old, also the first time I saw the ocean. My mom made a road trip to visit my aunt. It was winter, but I remember going to the beach, ripping off my clothes and running into the waves, when two gray whales spouted right in front of me. The spray hit me right in the face. Barnacle-encrusted backs, tail flukes … it changed my life. There was my subject. Ten years later, I painted a portrait of those two whales on a wall—10 years later, amazing!—probably 100 yards away from where I saw them. I was 24 when I started the walls. I dedicated the first in 1981. It took 27 years to paint 100. I thought it would take 30.
You also live near the spot.
I live above [Wyland Galleries]. It’s my dream studio; there’s an amazing view. That’s Laguna’s history—artist live-work studios. I also spend a lot of time in Hawaii and just bought a place in the Florida Keys. But Laguna is where I started my art career, where I opened my first gallery. I always come back to Laguna.
Of which honors and achievements are you most proud?
I was inducted last year into the International Diving Hall of Fame, joining Jacques Cousteau and Lloyd Bridges. The Guinness Book of Records for the largest mural in history, in Long Beach. I’m a fellow of the Explorers Club, with Teddy Roosevelt, Buzz Aldrin, all of my heroes.
Your greatest single influence?
[Explorer, filmmaker and marine conservation pioneer] Jacques Cousteau. He was like a poet. I felt strongly I would use my art to also further the cause of conservation. Life and water. Every drop counts. The first Wyland National Mayors Challenge is in April 2012. We’ll try to get every mayor in the nation to pledge for water conservation. In Southern California last year, our first, 900 million gallons were pledged. Go to mywaterpledge.com for tips on saving water. Save energy and save money for your family.
You make music, too.
Blues Planet—the planet’s got the blues! Three new recordings, 48 original blues songs with guys like Taj Mahal on iTunes.
Recommendations for visitors?
Right off our shore are blue whales, orca, gray whales, dolphins…. Immerse yourself in the Pacific Ocean of Southern California. Dana Point Harbor, Newport Harbor, take a boat out. Whale-watching is one of the greatest days you’ll ever have, an opportunity to see some of the rarest animals on the planet.
And on the land?
Head straight to Laguna Beach. Dump the car. Walk to Main Beach. The most beautiful people, 365 days a year. I love South Coast Cinema, sitting in the balcony! Laguna Playhouse. Summer art festivals. Laguna Beach is magic. I’ve been to the French Riviera. There’s no place like Laguna. No stresses. For an artist, it’s mecca. New York? L.A.? Uh-uh. Orange County is it! Best place on the planet, coolest place on the planet. Every O.C. city has its own personality.
Where do you take them to eat?
The Beach House in Laguna for breakfast. Amazing. Nobody knows it’s there. For dinner, I go to Javier’s in Newport Coast for the best Mexican food. I get the crab-and-shrimp enchiladas and margaritas.
The Beach House 619 Sleepy Hollow Lane, Laguna Beach, 949.494.9707 Javier’s, Laguna Playhouse 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949.497.2787 Main Beach Broadway and Coast Highway, Laguna Beach South Coast Cinema 162 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, 949.497.1711 Whale-watching Dana Wharf Sportfishing, Dana Point; Davey’s Locker, Newport Beach, Wyland Galleries 509 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, 949.376.8000