Browsing Tag

Art

Art, Art, Articles, Photography

C. Michael Frey: Heart in the Clouds

September 9, 2016

In a city like Los Angeles, whole industries are based on revision of reality.  One Georgia-born artist, turned LA native, C. Michael Frey, seeks to capture the sublime in the every day world.  His exhibition “Clouds” is currently showing in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles.  With this collection, Frey invites viewers to “get lost in a sense of wonderment and escape.”

Frey achieved a B.F.A. in painting and drawing from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia and later moved to New York City to pursue his art.  There, Frey worked in a commercial photographer’s studio, where he honed his skills in digital illustration and photographic retouching.  An award winning artist, Frey’s work has been featured in advertising campaigns, on album covers, and in magazines such as The New York Times, New York Magazine, Numéro, V, and Wired.

We caught up with Frey in Los Angeles about his upcoming exhibition of Clouds, and his other current works.

 

C. Michael Frey with his “Clouds” series. Photo: Lisa Osborne

 

TTDOG: Tell us about the move from painting and digital design to photography.  Why Clouds?

CMF:  I’ve always used photography as part of my creative process, so I don’t really feel I’ve moved away from painting.  It’s more of an exploration of another medium that has happened organically.

The Cloud photos weren’t really planned.  I moved to Los Angeles about ten years ago from New York and the sky feels so different here.  It’s expansive and seems limitless.  If I’m having a bad day or feeling stressed, I can easily escape in nature by taking a walk around the neighborhood or going for a hike.  The open sky puts things in perspective.  We seldom have clouds, but when we do the sunsets are often amazing.  I started photographing these moments and really wanted to capture the drama of the clouds and take a subject that is generally seen as pedestrian in art and reveal the sublime nature of these clouds.  Clouds are representative of the creative process itself: daydreaming and romanticism.  There is a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “you must not blame me if I do talk to clouds.”  This communion with and escape to nature and finding divinity in nature that the Transcendentalists strived for really resonates with me.

 

image

From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Romanticism is about the heart and idealism.  Clouds are great symbols of idealism to me.  I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve so not engaging my heart isn’t really an option.

 

TTDOG: When you say spirituality in this context, do you mean Judeo-Christian concepts of heaven being in the sky?

CMF: It can mean that, but it doesn’t have to.  Even in non western and pagan traditions, the sky is held in high regard, often where the gods reside.  But specifically for me, spirituality is about a connectedness to our environment.  It’s more about recognizing the power of Nature and how there’s a seemingly “other” world happening above us all the time.

 

image

From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

TTDOG:  What is your creative process?  Does it differ for photography, art and design?

CMF: With painting I always have a clear idea of what I want to paint and a plan before I take paintbrush to canvas.  I mostly paint people and photography has been instrumental in capturing subjects and developing the image I want to create.  Usually a subject will sit for me and I take a series of photographs.  I’ll edit the shoot and pick my favourites and then start manipulating them on the computer until they are close to what I want to recreate in a painting.  I’ll print out images I refer to while I’m painting.  But it’s not so much about just recreating what I see.  It’s about the feeling.  When I paint someone’s portrait, I really want to show their essence.  Georgia O’Keefe said: “Nothing is less real than realism.  Details are confusing.  It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”  This really sums up what I’m trying to accomplish as a painter.

 

image

C. Michael Frey in his studio. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

With photography it’s a much more simplified process that’s about being in the moment and being a witness to that moment.  I capture what I see in front of me.  There’s no planning and I’m not controlling the subject.  With the Clouds photo series, I’m zooming in on details to find something that’s compelling.  In a way it’s much more freeing than developing a painting that I spend weeks working on.  The tedious part comes with editing thousands of images down to the best ones and getting the printing right.  With the Clouds series, I wanted to capture the same ephemeral nature of clouds with the printing, so I had them mounted on acrylic to get a sense of lightness and light.  It also helps the colours to pop and gives the images a gem-like quality.

Graphic design is a totally different animal that requires a mindset that is often the opposite of what I’m doing when I paint or take photographs for myself.  With design, I’m always trying to communicate to a specific audience for a client.  It’s not about my message.  I may be using many of the same tools, but the goals are different.  In creating art, whether it be a painting or photograph, I’m trying to inspire or challenge a viewer to think about things or view things differently, which can sometimes be uncomfortable.  With graphic design, you generally aren’t trying to challenge the viewer.  It’s more about positive engagement and commerce.  Good design usually makes the viewer feel good whereas good art may leave the viewer crying in the fetal position.

 

TTDOG:  Goodness! I’m not going to your gallery with you!

CMF: I meant that more figuratively but I did have someone start bawling in front of one of my paintings, once.

 

TTDOG:  I think if I were to start bawling in front of your cloud series, it would be in a healing way; they are full of joy and love and even innocence.

CMF: Yes, and it’s actually a big change in the subject matter of my work.  The paintings of my earlier years are very dark, intense and melancholy.

 

TTDOG:  To what do you attribute this change?

CMF: Mostly, deciding that being an artist doesn’t have to be about suffering.  At 41, I’ve also become content in who I am as a person.  Presently, life is more about what I can accomplish now and being happy in the moment rather than struggling to figure it all out.

 

image

Frey in his home with his French bulldog, Lola. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

TTDOG:  I know that you paint from a sense of deep connection to something bigger than yourself.  Do you experience the same connection with photography?

CMF: They are very different experiences.  When I’m painting I can go into a very meditative state where I lose track of time and really just start feeling what I’m creating.  There’s a flow to it where I feel like I start to channel that creative muse.  There is also a lot of time spent just looking and thinking.  There is something very therapeutic about it that I don’t experience from anything else.

 

image

Frey, at work in his studio. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

Photography is much more about a single moment in time.  It can actually be frustrating because the camera separates you from the subject.  The real challenge in photography is capturing what the subject is making you feel.

 

TTDOG:  How much of the feel of the cloud photos is from digital manipulation?  What do you make of those purists who define photography as only that which is captured in camera?

CMF: For the Cloud photos, there is very little digital manipulation beside some colour tweaks to make prints match what I’m seeing on screen.  For the most part they are cropped the way I have shot them.  I try to find the most interesting moment happening at the time and shoot many frames so I have options.

I can understand why some people define photography that way, but I’m no purist.  It gets boring to have too many rules.

 

TTDOG:  Your photographs in the cloud series have a painterly quality to them.  Some of them have a feel of a Rothko or an Agnes Martin, in that the colour and subtle gradations draw the viewer in to a meditative state.  How, if at all, do you think your painting has influenced your photography?

CMF: That’s a very flattering comparison.  Thank you.  My most recent paintings have been minimalist portraits that use colour gradients.  I’ve become interested in the way colour and subtlety can have an impact, rather than spelling everything out with great detail and realism.  That interest has definitely carried over to my cloud photos.  I like the idea of breaking things down to their most basic parts.

 

image

From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Minimalism is very freeing, I think.  It allows you to see things you’ve never noticed before in a new way.  It’s amazing to me how a single colour can evoke emotion.

 

image

From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I want people to have an emotive response through colour when seeing my work but it’s not as simple as if I paint someone’s portrait in blue that I want them to feel sad.  Mostly I’m using colour, when I paint, to relate to the individual I’m painting.  I guess it’s more about how I see them and the aura they give off.  With the clouds, I don’t have any control over that.

Of course I’m in control of what I choose to photograph.  But how the subject changes while I’m photographing, I have no control over.  I love the ephemeral nature of the Clouds for that reason.  If I’m not fast enough I can miss out.

 

image

From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

And definitely through the editing process, it’s all about what speaks to me and what I find interesting.

I have a long work history working in print so I’ve learned the technical ins and outs of how to get a print to look the way you want.  But, having a printer who you are confident in is definitely vital.  Luckily most printers these days have colour profiles available if you are making digital c-prints.  But, there is still a lot of trial and error.

 

TTDOG:  Who are your influences?

CMF: In general, I really love old masters like Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Jacques-Louis David.  I’ve always been drawn to figurative work and especially artists who know how to manipulate light and expertly render the human form.  Cindy Sherman has been a big influence on the subject matter of my painting.  I used to primarily paint self portraits and have always been drawn to exploring the concepts of identity and perception.

 

image

“MIKHI” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

The cloud photos have been a big change in the type of art I make.  When creating the cloud photos, I thought a lot about William Turner’s cloud study paintings.  His expressive use of colour captures the power of nature in a way that I wanted to communicate through these photos.  It also made me think a lot about color theory and has influenced my recent portraits which are much more minimalist in colour.  I’ve developed a great appreciation for modern minimalist artists that play with colour and spectrum like Josef Albers, Elisworth Kelly and James Turrell.

 

image

From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

TTDOG:  You mentioned colour theory before, when we were looking at some artworks together.  Can you explain more about that for those of us who are unfamiliar with it?

CMF: Color theory is understanding how different colours relate to each other and how they interact when they are combined.  Color created by light and color created by pigment work very differently.  It can get rather technical and complicated, especially when you are trying to get a photograph to match what you are seeing on a digital screen.

Colour created through light is additive.  If you combine Red, Green and Blue, you get white and there are millions of colour variations.  The opposite is true with paint, which is subtractive.  Mixing those colours together in pigment would leave you with a muddy mess.  And the spectrum is much more narrow with pigments:  there are only thousands of colours that can be reproduced.

 

image

“LISKA” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

TTDOG: You have some pretty exciting work that has come out of this collection.  Tell us about that.

CMF:  Yes, Urban Outfitters recently contacted me about doing an artist partnership with them using some of my Cloud images.  The images will be printed on a variety of products like tapestries and bedding as well as clothing.  The first pieces of the line will be available this coming holiday season.

 

TTDOG: Will there be more photo series?

CMF:  I intend to continue photographing clouds as long as they are in the sky, which is hopefully a few more years, at least.  I’m not sure where this series will lead; I’m just going to see where it goes naturally.  I’ve been thinking of ideas for how to mix the Cloud images with painting.  But in my heart, I’m more of a painter than a photographer.  Ideally I’d like to be able to work successfully in a variety of mediums, and for there to still be a common thread that can be seen.

 

TTDOG: Artists have a certain reputation for being free spirits and promiscuous.  But you are married, settled and stable.  How has this helped or hindered your work?

CMF: For the most part it’s given me the space and ability to work freely without having to worry so much about income.  My husband, Tim, is very supportive of my work.  If anything I’m sure he wishes I were more prolific and spent more time painting.  It is challenging to work as a freelance designer and manage my time so that I have time to paint.

 

image

“TIM” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

In western culture we have a very romanticized view of the ‘starving artist.’  When I was younger, I had the notion that one needed a lot of drama and sadness in their life to be an artist.  That’s not very sustainable or interesting after a certain age.  I’m very grateful for the happiness I’ve found being in a happy, long term marriage.  It’s been freeing for me to let go of my preconceived notions of what life as an artist and particularly a gay man, should look like.  I’m not really one to look back and question what could have been.  Life is a journey about learning, and I’m grateful for the choices I’ve made that have led me to the life I have today.

 

image

Portraits by C. Michael Frey. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

TTDOG: You have exhibited Clouds in a West Hollywood shop at now an Eagle Rock craft beer tasting room.  They are not conventional venues.  What made you choose to show this collection in this way?  Why do you suppose more artists are exhibiting in this way?

CMF: I originally showed my Cloud series at TENOVERSIX in West Hollywood.  The owners are great friends of mine and I’ve been doing design work for them since they opened.  They’ve an amazing eye for everything from fashion to housewares to art.  I was honoured that they showed my Cloud photos.

Craft Beer Cellar, where I’m showing the Clouds from Saturday night is in Eagle Rock, a couple of blocks from my house.  They opened about a year ago and recently started showing art.  I’ve become friends with the owners and asked them if they would be willing to show my work.  Eagle Rock has a unique art and social scene and in many ways feels more like a small town than just a neighborhood in LA.  I haven’t been showing my work in Los Angeles until recently.  I’ve mostly been focused on my graphic design business and haven’t been putting my art out there.  Honestly, I find the art world extremely intimidating, but I’m getting over that and am taking the first steps to have my work seen.

 

C. Michael Frey hanging his Cloud series at Craft Beer Cellar in Eagle Rock. Photo: Lisa Osborne

 

I think more artists are showing their work in unconventional spaces because there is so much competition out there for gallery shows , and there are also just a lot more interesting spaces that people can interact with your work these days.  But non-gallery spaces like coffee shops and restaurants have always been great starting points for getting your work out there so people can see it. You have to start somewhere.

 

TTDOG: What’s next for you?

CMF: I really hope to show more of my work in the coming year, get in some group shows, and hopefully have a solo show in a gallery.  I’m going to continue to grow my portrait series and cloud photos.  I’d love to create a book with the Clouds, but the expense of printing a fine art book is rather prohibitive.  If I could find a publisher, that would be wonderful.

 

TTDOG:  Where do you find your greatest joy and for what are you most grateful?

CMF:  I find my greatest joy in sharing food with friends and loved ones.  I love to cook – it’s a quick creative outlet that helps me be more social and share my talents with other people.  There’s something very comforting about providing nourishment for others.  We host a weekly potluck for friends that has become something I look forward to each week.

 I’m most grateful for my relationship with my husband.  Tim is my rock.  He’s my biggest support, but he also grounds me, gives me very practical critiques in my design work and art, and keeps me balanced.

 

***UPDATE:  Clouds will be showing again from 6 Feb-12 Feb at Space 15 Twenty, 1520 N Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028.  Closing event  will be held on 12 Feb 11am- 2pm***

(Previously, there was a Clouds opening event Saturday, 10 September, at Craft Beer Cellar at 5 p.m. as part of the NELA Second Saturday Art Walk.  Craft Beer Cellar is located at 1353 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041.  Tel: 323-206-5164.)

 

image

“Clouds” by C. Michael Frey, exhibiting 10 September – 30 September at Craft Beer Cellar. Photo: Lisa Osborne

Images from the exhibition will be on sale at the shop and tap room and via Frey’s website.  The show runs now through the end of September.

 

For more on C. Michael Frey, follow him at:

Frey Art and Design;

Instagram; and

Facebook.

To commission Frey, send him an email at:

michael@cmichaelfrey.com

Articles, Nature, Oneness

Making Every Day, Earth Day: Working with Oneness

June 8, 2016
image

Photo by NASA

Not long ago, we celebrated another Earth Day. For many of us, marking Earth Day demonstrates that we care about the environment, however, setting aside one day per year for Earth Day or Women’s Day or Mother’s Day always sits uncomfortably with me.  I feel that as long as we need a special day of remembrance, we are not fully integrated with Feminine energy, caregiving, or the Earth.  And, on a practical level, there is a danger that attending an event on the given day may generate the good vibes of actually making a contribution, while our behaviour has not changed at all.

On Earth Day, an artist that I follow posted to his social media account a woodcut print that he had made.

 

 

Like the images in the print, he made an impassioned plea to his social media followers to rethink their values and consumption patterns.  He ended his plea with: “Every Day Should Be Earth Day.”  He isn’t the first person to have said this, but he does not seem to use words lightly, so when he speaks, I pay attention, and I think about what he has said.  Over the next few days, I thought a lot about it.

What would it take to truly make every day, Earth Day?

Behavioural change, is needed, to be sure. And so, I set about developing something that, as a sustainability consultant, was within my reach:  A series on ecological issues and behavioural changes that we could all make to help address the issues.  I completed and edited and polished the first article.  But I couldn’t publish.  I knew something fundamental was missing.  It wasn’t the first article, after all.

I needed to get out of my comfortable position of understanding, in order to begin at the beginning.

At the heart of  behavioural change must be a real shift in consciousness and an awakening to the insanity of our apparent indifference to the consequences of our lifestyles.  That awakening would seem to require a deep reverence for the Earth and clarity on what we are doing to destroy her.  I am not saying that we should not reduce and eliminate the use of plastics, switch to clean energy, grow our own food, reduce water and embedded water use and avoid the use of conflict minerals like Coltan, found in electronics.  But I do believe that we must begin with a perceptual shift toward the interconnectedness of all things: Oneness.

Those of you who have navigated around this website will notice that I have not completed the article on Oneness.  I have deliberately left it blank, for now.  I have been writing for nearly two years about Oneness as we each develop our own understanding and meaning.

There are many great thinkers who have had something to say about the concept:

 

“Oneness is very simple: everything is included and allowed to live according to its true nature. This is the secret that is being revealed, the opportunity that is offered. How we make use of this opportunity depends upon the degree of our participation, how much we are prepared to give ourselves to the work that needs to be done, to the freedom that needs to be lived.”

— Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee from the book Working with Oneness

“From out of all the many particulars comes oneness, and out of oneness come all the many particulars.”

— Heraclitus

“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.”

— Albert Einstein

 

We require a paradigm shift.

Last month, we celebrated North American Mother’s Day. There is meant to be no greater bond between humans than that of the bond between child and primary caregiver, regardless of gender or biological relationship. Our first relationship, with “Mother,” is an archetypal one.  It is, for better or worse, a relationship that defines us.  Yet we seem to have forgotten that our first Mother is the Earth.  Connecting to Oneness may help our remembrance of her and to re-establish and work with our archetypal relationship with the primary caregiver of us all.

Of course, when we begin to do this, if we are truly witnessing what is happening, we cannot help but feel overwhelming pain.  As horrible as it is, perhaps the grief of “witnessing” is a sign that we are on the right path.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, one of the Interfaith leaders dedicated to Working With Oneness offers a brief talk on our current ecological crisis, in this 7 minute film.

 

I understand that not everyone reading this will resonate with the concept of magic.  However, it is useful to note that Vaughan-Lee is not only a mystic but a Jungian psychologist.  I don’t pretend to understand the depths of Jungian analysis, but I have some knowledge.  Perhaps we can consider this destructive entrancement as a kind of strangle hold on our collective unconsciousness.  We need a paradigm shift to break free; It seems, to me, that the first step toward that paradigm shift is in working with Oneness.

So, how can we work with Oneness?

In whatever way is natural to you, every single day.  I came to my own understanding and practice of Oneness through a spark that was lit by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee and the Interfaith leaders of Working With Oneness.  I am not an expert in Oneness – I struggle as much as anyone to work with it, every day.  However, there are many experts on many spiritual paths which take up the practice, even if not so named.  And, Einstein shows that shifting to working with Oneness is not the preserve of the mystic or the spiritual aspirant.  For the secular among us, an association with a group of like minded people who care about the planet, and who practice compassion towards all living beings, can help us connect and work with Oneness.

For the spiritual seeker, I suggest looking to your own path to see how Oneness with the planet is called to manifest.  If you practice healing, perhaps make it a regular part of your practice to send healing to the planet and to the soul of the planet – the Anima Mundi. If you are a meditator, yogi or have some other spiritual practice, dedicate at least some of your practice to healing the planet. In your remembrances of the Divine Quantum, remember that Divine Life that is Mother Earth.

Working with Oneness will, no doubt, bring us in touch with grief as we witness what is.  It is a terrible burden that is necessary for the transformation that can lead to the creation of a new story.

If you are an artist, writer, or musician, connect with, and start to tell not just the story of destruction and crisis, but the new story of Life.  How?  However you can.  All art originates from storytelling and heroic tales.  We are all on a heroic journey through the dark night of the soul – now, it is no longer just our own soul, but the soul of the planet, as well.  We must make this journey alone, but with the knowledge that we are together, in this darkness, with one another and our Mother Earth.  Like the hero, we must find the light in the darkness that leads us to the other side, or else, we risk being lost.  Too much grief can dim the creative light and energy in us all, if we don’t also work to midwife the new story of Life.

If you are not an artist, writer or musician – create, anyway!   Create a community garden, draw a picture of a tree, tell a story from the point of view of an animal, sing a song when you go for a walk.  I come from the West coast of Canada.  When hiking, it is advisable to wear a bell to warn bears that a human is approaching and to avoid a startled and possibly dangerous meeting.  I don’t wear a bear bell; I sing.  I’m pretty sure I’m not in key, but do the birds worry about being in key?  They just sing.  Rebirth is a creative process; Let’s generate as much creative energy as we can.

Let’s spend more time in and develop a new relationship with nature.  Let’s reflect on the wonder of the natural world and how we have not only taken her for granted, but destroyed her with our forgetfulness.  Let’s learn to listen with our intuition, our imagination and our hearts to the story she wants to tell, and to our role in the narrative.  Let’s  reflect on the food chain at each meal and reflect upon what has gone into bringing this food to our supermarket, our kitchen and our table.  Reflection on this may lead to an understanding of our own role in creating the toxins poisoning our Mother Earth and finding its way into our food and it may help make conscious the ways in which we are creating and exacerbating drought conditions around the planet with our consumption patterns.  It may lead us to switch from fossil fuels, eliminate plastic waste and grow our own food in a community garden, as we care gently for our Mother Earth.

There are so many ways to work with Oneness and discovering the way that is right for each of us is part of our own individual part of the story.

Behavioural change is crucial for our survival.  But a more important change must come if we are to avoid patching up a system built upon a paradigm that is fundamentally broken and unsustainable.  If we really work with Oneness, we all must accept responsibility for our part in the current ecological crisis that comes from recognising we are one with the story of destruction as well as the story of creative healing that is required.

In the coming months, we will look at ways we can change our behaviour and our ethos around various issues.  For me, as much as anyone else, it will also be a venture into the unknown world of working with Oneness with Mother Earth.

If there is an issue you feel strongly about, or if you’d like to write an article, a poem or feature some artwork related to the topic, contact us.

Let’s make some magic.

 

 

Art, Art, Articles, Nature, Oneness, Service

Louis Masai and His Tribe: Shepherding Consciousness Towards Animal Welfare

January 20, 2016

We kick off 2016 with the first in a series of articles featuring individuals who are making a difference in the world – where they are, with the talents they have – through Service.  Our first interview features the UK artist Louis Masai, who uses his skills as a contemporary fine artist and muralist to give a voice to the voiceless and promote environmental conservation.

The global climate summit COP 21 concluded last month and Louis Masai traveled to Paris to add to his works with the environmental NGO, Synchronicity Earth, on endangered species.  In advance of the climate talks, he painted a coral mural outside Paris which is part of a series of murals he is painting in several countries.

In September, Louis Masai began the series by creating the largest mural he has painted to date, in London.  The painting depicted a coral reef with various reef dependent species to highlight the biodiversity of marine ecosystems and corals under threat.  The work was the artist’s first interactive piece, with members of the public suggesting species to include in his design as he painted, and the work received tremendous media attention.  The artist has gone on to paint smaller coral follow-up pieces in Ireland, South London and Paris.

 

#LondonLovesCoral Mural by Louis Masai with Synchronicity Earth, in London

#LondonLovesCoral Mural by Louis Masai with Synchronicity Earth, in London. Photo by Tania Campbell

 

Marine ecosystems are vitally important to life on the planet.  Oceans cover more than 2/3 of the surface, and plankton in marine ecosystems provide 50% of the world’s oxygen as well as food and livelihoods for vast numbers of the global population, particularly for the world’s poor.  As part of the marine ecosystem, coral reefs are home to a multitude of marine life but with climate change, coastal runoff, overfishing and marine pollution, 75% of the world’s coral reefs are currently under threat  with some environmentalists projecting that 90% of the worlds reefs will be under threat by 2030.   The worlds largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, barely remained off the UNESCO endangered list in 2015 and remains under a severe threat watch for the next several years.

These threats have serious implications for mankind.  Seagrasses and mangroves have been lost with the worsening health of marine ecosystems.  When coupled with coral losses and degradation, this has promoted the growth of disease spreading algal blooms in coastal waters which threaten to change disease vectors for masses of populations of humans and terrestrial wildlife.  The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) scientists responsible for projections about the likelihood of climate change and the risks and impacts of that climate change  confirm in their 5th Assessment report the vulnerability of coral reefs.  The existing and projected degradation of coral reefs exacerbates the threat of sea level rise to coastal systems and low-lying areas and this will persist, even if the world manages to stabilise temperatures.

The environmental threat from degradation of the world’s reefs and marine ecosystems is extreme and it will take the concerted effort of the world’s population to improve our combined destiny.  Digesting this grave information is not easy but  Louis Masai has teamed up with Synchronicity Earth to help raise awareness by making all the frightening statistics more accessible and personal.

 

Louis Masai workng on his mural #LondonLovesCoral. Photo Courtesy of London Calling Blog

Louis Masai working on his mural #LondonLovesCoral. Photo Courtesy of London Calling Blog on Instagram: @ldn_calling_blog

 

Whilst the COP 21 Climate Change summit was underway in Paris, we had the opportunity to connect with the artist via email for an interview.

 

TTDOG: You have shied away from the term activist in the past, but I know that you care deeply about the rapid wave of extinctions of species and of biodiversity loss. You have expanded beyond individual species and animals now to a much wider crisis – that of the vanishing coral reefs and, therefore, of entire marine ecosystems. You have painted in Paris at the start of COP21 where all the world’s leaders gathered to set the agenda that will affect the world’s climate which is arguably at a tipping point.  What does this wider vision and forum mean to you and how do you hope your work will impact on leaders, environmentalists and individuals?

LM: Well, to be honest, I doubt very much that politicians that aren’t already engaged in the thoughts of environmental issues will become altered by stumbling upon my coral hearts in Paris or by the other paintings that I have done.  In fact, they are probably blissfully unaware that I am doing it.  There are other art projects happening in Paris that might reach them, but even still, I don’t personally believe that visual language can reach an unethical mind.  However, I do believe that the people that vote governments in to power will be affected by visual language and I also believe that these images can inform the general public and, hopefully, unite the people to encourage the right politicians to lead countries and represent us at environmental summits.

Environmentalists love my work for the simple reason that it addresses issues that they are concerned with;  It depicts them in an attractive way, and it helps to reach the wider audience.  And, as individuals, I think 1 in 10 people will take note and allow for the message to override the actual image itself.  I hope so, anyway.

 

TTDOG:  You have said before that you inject a human element in your work.  Have you done this in your recent series of coral paintings with synchronicity earth? In what way?

LM:  Well the big coral mural I did in London doesn’t depict human juxtaposition in the way that my other work does, but if you look into the centre of the shape, there is a heart shaped hole which I have coined “the keyhole” which means the  biodiversity that I have created is a padlock.  Every keyhole has a key.  

 

Detail from London mural #LondonLovesCoral by Louis Masai with empty heart "keyhole"amidst the biodiversity padlock. Photo courtesy of Instagrammer @m_frenchie

Detail from London mural #LondonLovesCoral by Louis Masai with empty heart “keyhole” in the upper left circle.      Photo courtesy of Instagrammer @m_frenchi

 

The coral hearts that I painted in South London, Paris and before in Ireland are the keys.  This idea of keys and lock symbolises that to unlock a sustainable ecosystem, like the coral reef, we must all have a key to invest into its survival.  The keys become metaphors for the human itself, and thus, the juxtaposition of human and animal becomes a little bit more obvious.  Essentially all my coral paintings are connected together in some way because of the heart, which by the way is not shaped like I have painted them, this shape is a human interpretation.

 

Coral Key in South London by Louis Masai. Photo by Tania Campbell

Coral Key in South London by Louis Masai. Photo by Tania Campbell

 

TTDOG: Your work seems to focus on environmental crisis. What drives you to give a voice to those who do not have one within your paintings and then to engage and include so called marginalised people who are not otherwise part of the environmental discussion through interaction with your art?

LM: I haven’t ever stopped to figure that out, it’s just something that happened naturally, over time.  I guess I’m just creating large real life jigsaw puzzles.

 

TTDOG: Your name is “Masai” and it is a word that seems both sacred and integral to your painting. Would you be willing to share how you gained the name and how it’s meaning infuses your work? What does it mean to you to call your followers “Masai Tribe?”

LM: I have fond memories of wild tales from my Opa about my dad in the Cameroons (now part of Nigeria and the Country of Cameroon) and it is those stories twinned with the Archeological treasures we had at home that steered me in the direction of tribal cultures. I soon discovered an amazing book called Africa Adorned (By Angela Fisher). I became fixated with a tall tribe bearing spears and shields, dressed in beautiful red tartans.

I later understood them to be the Masai warrior tribe.

I have a particular interest in the idea of one’s creation and the way that a person can shape and define who and what they are perceived to be by the general public. Being that I am an artist and one that engages in the public domain on a daily basis, I realised that my love of graffiti and the ideology of fame through a moniker or alter ego was, in many ways, no different from the inventions of the band names and frontmen that I was listening to, on my records. It’s also not uncommon for fine artists to invent their own names. Man Ray, for example, even took it a step further and his name became the art itself. Again, I found this very interesting and something that I wanted to incorporate with my own work.

With these factors all combined and running around my busy head some 8 or 9 years ago, I decided that I wanted a powerful name that I hoped could one day become as important as the work i was creating. I feel it’s starting to approach that place now, especially as my work is about raising awareness for endangered species and threatened ecosystems. The Masai are shepherds which is a nice link to the idea of an artist collecting consciousness amongst the peoples for animal welfare.

The reason for using Masai tribe in my social media is as a way to remind my followers that we are all unified in the success of one mans objectives. If mine is to spread awareness then it’s the tribe’s to move it from my page to theirs and further. I feel the word tribe removes any superiority amongst us.

 

TTDOG: I admire the way you have worked so incredibly hard and collaborated with activists to both make a living as an artist and to make a difference in the world. Both the art world and the world of socio/environmental/political change are really challenging.  People often fear that they alone can’t make a difference. What would you say to them?

LM: Well, to start with, it depends what that one man standing solo is trying to achieve.   You can’t play football on your own, but you can play a game with that ball on your own.  So I guess what I’m saying is that if you want to make a difference and you feel isolated and alone then change the way you address it or go and knock and some doors and get a full team of football fans to play with you.

For me words like “original”, “unique” and “individual” are misused words because someone else has done it before, thought it before, and there will be many to follow.   What i mean is that there are many more “you”’s out there and they care just as much, so find them.  Your mission is to create the links, make a tribe and spread the message further.

 

Throughout his career, Louis has been evolving, creating connections and spreading his message.  Although not always connecting his painting with specific conservation projects, he has long had a special ability to paint character-filled animals.  Painting for several group and solo contemporary art gallery exhibitions, he also honed his skills with public murals in London and in several other countries.  Louis’ evolving relationship with visual communication between animals as subjects and the public as viewer matured through several series of works, and began to focus on raising awareness of endangered species.  His earlier work with Synchronicity Earth marked the passing of the 50th anniversary of the IUCN Red List for endangered species.

Shortly after this project, TTDOG  had the pleasure to meet the artist at his solo exhibition “Batteries Not Included”, in London.  There, Louis spoke about his work with Synchronicity Earth and of the importance for the public to understand and act now on the IUCN Red List for endangered species.  His deeply moving connection with his subjects and his conviction to try to make a change was palpable to all in attendance.

A film by Synchronicity Earth was launched at the opening of the exhibition and provides a glimpse into the passion and purpose of Louis Masai and the Synchronicity Earth Team.

 

Whilst busy creating several other series of paintings for gallery exhibitions and as public art, Louis Masai teamed up in 2014 with fellow artist Jim Vision to turn their skills towards an urgent issue – the collapse of pollinator communities across the UK.   Engaging with the public to educate and raise awareness, the pair created a series of murals in London.  The project culminated in a day of community consciousness and awareness raising around the delicate ecosystem and the threats to the food chain, and textile crops from colony collapse.  Local beekeepers, Friends of the Earth, Hiver honey beer, Thompson Morgan seeds and Rockwell House joined the artists’ cause, to help make the project a success.
The project to save the bees caught the attention and inspired the imagination of the UK public.  A short film by Emil Walker helped deliver the message of the dangers to humanity of the collapse of bee colonies to audiences beyond the UK.

 

 

The project has been featured in social media by environmentalists such as Greenpeace, and Ecowatch, activist sites like Films for Action and the trend setting site Bored Panda as well as mainstream media.  As the debate around banning neonics continues in countries like USA and Canada, and as Europe and the global South works to revive the pollinator population, the project provides a perfect example of how communities are both impacted by and can impact upon bee colony health.

 

Although the global climate meeting of the Conference of Parties 21 concluded late last year with a landmark climate agreement to end fossil fuels use and limit carbon emissions, implementing this agreement and limiting the other greenhouse gasses which threaten the climate will be a complicated process involving unpopular political policy and major lifestyle adjustments for the world’s population.  We know this work cannot be done by governments alone.

As the world struggles to back away from climate disaster,  Louis Masai’s paintings, as real life jigsaw puzzles, help remind even a fraction of his audience that we each hold the key to unlock the preservation of biodiversity.

 

We asked Louis Masai one final question:

 

TTDOG:  For what are you most grateful, and where do you find your greatest joy?

LM:  I just give thanks for the life I live.     For me,  joy is in nature,  so I hope to find ways to preserve it.

 

 

For further information on the work of Louis Masai:
Louis Masai’s Website
Louis Masai on Facebook
Louis Masai on Instagram
Ten Thousand Days

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 468)

December 1, 2015
photo by Alex Jones

photo by Alex Jones

Before Plin left to go back to LA, we had a chat about his newest shutter piece in South London.  I told him that I wished I could paint but I have no talent as a visual artist.  And then I remembered that I had taken a “seeing drawing” course a hundred years ago.  I found that drawing helped me to really look and to see what was before me. By the end of the course, some of what I drew actually looked like well…what was in front of me.  I never really learned to draw, but it did help to look and deeply “see.”

Plin (bless him) was ever the encourager.  He said: “Everyone is creative in some way.”

As a child, I was creative. I made up stories and plays and sang rock operas with my friends and by the time I was 12, I was writing poetry in both English and in French.  What seemed to matter, however, was that I was good in Math.

A couple days after my last conversation with Plin, I went looking for the piece in South London.  It took me two trips to find it.  On that second trip, I was processing a nasty text message from a man in my life, “The Photographer”. He had been hanging around for months and, although charming at first, was proving himself to be arrogant and increasingly, belittling.

Dealing with him was leaving me feeling bad.

“Never mind,” I thought.  I was determined to find that lovely shutter piece by Plin and as I tried to match the sidewalk and awning in the only existing photo of the painting to the world I saw around me, I thought warmly about Plin.  I had met him only briefly a couple of times but I always walked away from the encounters feeling more able to be myself than I had with most people.   He brought out a playful side of me, and, I was happy about who I was.

When I found his piece, it had been painted with a hateful tag. The café owner told me it had happened almost immediately –  and was possibly the work of some locals feeling territorial and jealous.

I don’t know why I am recalling this story today. I am learning to follow my intuition calling from the Oneness of the collective unconscious and my mind has been called to that mural several times this week.  Maybe the hateful tag was a cry from the community for something that needs healing. Maybe people that have never been given the gift of art do not know how to relate to it and don’t recognise that they, too, have the ability to be “creative in some way” or maybe when they expressed the essential part of themselves from which all art comes, they faced ridicule.

We learn by the modelling we receive.  Those who have been abused either grow up accepting it, or they project it outward, until a new model comes along and, in time, a new way of being can be learned.  Maybe that tag was a sign that more art and more love is needed in that part of  London, not less of it.   I don’t know.  But, since it is calling to me, I will include that part of London in my healing service tonight.

 

Standing in the fading afternoon light and seeing all of Plin’s beautiful work tagged up so hatefully was heartbreaking.   Feeling sadness over his work allowed me to get in touch with my other pain.  On the way home that night, I sent a response by text message to “The Photographer” and I ended things with him.

Later that week, when I was stuck with a block in my writing, I pulled out my coloured ball point pens and “drew” a stick figure “portrait” of Plin that I hoped would make him laugh. It was not as elegantly executed as a 5 year old could achieve, and yet, when I stepped back and looked at it, to me, it actually captured a sense of his essence.

Children, before conditioned, understand and live from their essence.   Life is creative play.  How they view and value that essence and whether they continue to play and experiment has a lot to do with their modelling.

 

Today I am grateful for encouraging models. I am grateful for the kindness of Plin and for the opportunity to witness the juxtaposition of his beautiful mural with that hateful tag just as I was dealing with the abusive Photographer.  If I hadn’t been there, with the confluence of all those forces, it might not have been so clear – hateful tags on our art and our essence are never to be tolerated.

I am grateful for my friend and painter, Michael Frey, who encourages me to just have fun with visual imagery and laughs with me as I learn to draw like a child. I know that he has loved me through my best and worst times and he accepts and loves the essence of who I am.

I am grateful for Anna Laurini, the painter, who didn’t laugh at me when I said I would like to try to learn to paint. She told me where to buy paint and brushes in London and advised me which ones to buy, as a beginner.  She also encourages me to just have fun.  Whenever I see her now, she asks me how my painting is going.

I haven’t started painting; I bought a sketch pad and some sketching pencils and I let myself just have fun again, recently.  I created a stick figure “portrait” of my friend, Ax.  I did not try “seeing drawing” but just played and drew with abandon. It was nothing short of a disasterpiece, but it was a joy to create.

Sometimes we have to remake our childhood and learn to play again, in order to accept and love the essence of who we are.  I am not a visual artist; I am a writer.  But as long as I am still breathing, there is still time to play.

"My Disasterpiece" by Pinkstar Miró

“Disasterpiece” by Pinkstar Miró

 

For what are you grateful today?