British artist Louis Masai is a London-based artist who uses nature as his muse. An artist and wildlife aficionado since he was young, Masai’s work is a visual voice for endangered animals and the natural environment. Masai spends 50 percent of his time in the studio using pen and inks, paint and brushes, sculpture and screen printing and 50 percent of his time outside, painting beautiful murals on the side of buildings. Over the next few months, Masai is bringing wildlife to urban areas throughout the United States, including Austin in November, in a series of endangered species murals. GWC, a proud sponsor of The Art of Beeing, caught up with Masai this month during his time in California, where he’s working on murals in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Follow tour progress, species information and how to get involved at www.artofbeeing.org. (Top photo by Toby Madden/Synchronicity Earth)
Q. When did you start painting these murals?
A. I’ve been painting murals for the past 6-7 years and the pieces have always focused on animals. My interest in painting about the animal kingdom evolved to concentrating specifically on endangered species about three years ago in conjunction to a trip I took to South Africa. On return to the U.K. I focused even more specifically on finding ways to encourage the general public to engage with nature and the local species that are under threat. I chose to paint about bees at this time as it was an interesting first step to encourage the public to relate to a species that they could identify with…ultimately I realized that it was easier for people to understand the threat to bees as not only had everyone seen a bee, but they also had a direct understanding about the effects on the human race if bees disappeared. It’s not as easy to encourage people in London to have that understanding about rhinos as most Londoners will never see an actual rhino. In some ways, dead or alive they are an enigma.
Q. When people walk by your murals, what do you hope they feel?
A. I hope at some point–even if it’s only one person–that there is an interest in finding out more information about the species that I am painting. But even before that, I hope that people are accepting of the image in their community. I haven’t really had many occasions where someone is annoyed that I have painted a piece. By working in this way, in the public domain, I have an opportunity to pass on information to the general public and I know that this provides an opportunity to reach out to a whole new demographic of people that perhaps wouldn’t normally have had an opportunity to learn about these issues.
Q. Do you feel like these murals are hopeful or that they tell a story of doom and gloom?
A. The paintings are extremely vibrant. They are full of color and have points of reference for all members of a community. The message behind the reality of the paintings is obviously slightly disheartening, but I feel that because the images are all completed with QR codes that link to the tour website that has links to areas that people can actually make positive changes for the species in discussion means that I have addressed the idea of not leaving the public with doom and gloom on their minds. I think that positive energy, love and respect can evoke change.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge in painting these murals?
A. Finding walls to paint on from the other side of the world is very complicated. Fortunately I have managed to find extremely kind and helpful people to make it easier for things to happen.
Q. What role do you think art plays in conservation?
A. There definitely is a lot of conservation art out there but at the cost of sounding critical, I personally feel that the art that is dealing with conservation and other calls to action tends to focus too much on the same approach, the materials used and the images portrayed. How many more times do I need to see a baby painted inside the planet’s womb with a tree growing out of it. The message is strong, but it’s been done way too much and I personally think it’s not been done that well. I would like to see more people that are amazing artists stepping up and becoming more aware of the power of their creativity as a way to evoke change. That being said, there are some incredible artists that are doing exactly that. For example, Dan Witz, who has worked with PETA on several campaigns, shows how art and political environmental messages can be achieved. I think art plays a very powerful role in society full stop and advocates of change should work more with talented artists of all disciplines to evoke social and environmental change.
Q. Why are you so committed to conservation?
A. It makes sense to me. If we don’t speak up for the suffering, then what chance has it against the destruction of humans?
Q. Are you looking forward to coming to Austin? Why?
A. Absolutely. Every destination has been invigorating to visit and I’m sure Austin with its vibrant music scene will be a wonderful experience.
Q. What comes next after this tour?
A. Some sleep…
Q. Do you have a favorite species?
A. I feel like my spirit animal could be the bee, and I love lions, but in all honesty so many species fill me with excitement that to choose one over the next feels somewhat mad to me…I love all of nature.