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Wyland Hands Across the Oceans

Wyland paints signature maritime dolphins on Ruby Princess’ Neptune pool

Dr. Anton Anderssen, eTN special correspondent  Aug 28, 2009

I booked my mid-August Greek Islands cruise because I wanted to see shooting stars. Every summer around August 10, the Perseid Meteor Showers emerge from the heavens, and one of the best ways to view them is at sea, far away from the disturbance of city lights. As the Ruby Princess sailed majestically across the immortal Mediterranean, shooting stars of a different nature appeared out of the blue.

This was one of Princess Cruise Lines’ Connoisseur voyages, when an exceptional opportunity to mingle among extraordinary living artists befalls Princess’ passengers in a serendipitous serenade. Our extended voyage welcomed three Ws of whimsical wonder: Wyland, Warren, and Walfrido.

Anyone who has visited Hawaii no doubt has gazed awe-stricken upon the beautiful marine art of Robert Wyland, the genius from Detroit whose talent was too big to pin him down to a life of mediocrity in the automotive industry.

“I was fired three times in a row when working assembly line-type jobs,” Wyland said as he painted a sensational image of a mother whale and calf. “I was meant to be an artist, and as Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Wyland’s life is a dream-come-true, and the journey toward fulfilling his dreams is utterly fascinating. As a work of art, it’s difficult to judge which is more remarkable – be it the painted or the painter himself.

During his childhood, the advances in marine conservation forged by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the cetacean scholars engrossed him. This naturally gifted artist had a burning passion to raise environmental awareness; to reify his vision he literally got the show on the road by airbrushing massive murals in municipal midways – strategically located to win maximum attention. Thirty years later, his 100 “whaling walls” are world-renowned, he garnered a Guinness record in the interim, and has tot up one million tots as auxiliary painters on divers public projects.

The daily communiqué from the Ruby Princess, called the “Princess Patter,” announced live artists’ demonstrations, champagne unveilings, and collectors’ auctions. Special inserts showcased each of the honored aesthetes along with their myriad of accomplishments.

The road to success can be quite a bumpy one.

Grammy Award-winning artist Jim Warren spoke of prudish pedagogues of the past. As a matter of fact, his former high school art teacher struck me as completely stultifying. He was even thrown out of his art class by the peevish shrew; she apparently had no faculty to recognize creative talent - only fawning obsequiousness.

“One day our art class went outdoors to draw trees,” said Warren. “While everyone else drew basic copies of the tree in front of them, I took the more creative and artistic approach. Like Salvador Dali, I drew a surrealistic tree, where the branches of the trees took on human characteristics like arms, and I drew the leaves as hands.”

“She gave me an F on that project,” said Warren, “and then as the school year continued, when I refused to compromise myself to follow her boring rules, I got thrown out of art class.”

I instantly felt a kindred spirit with Jim Warren. I know what it’s like to be a brushed-off art student, punished for thinking outside the box.

I recall a “beautification” project our elementary school did to prepare for the big parent-teacher conference. Each child was given a coloring book rendering of a cow and was instructed to finish it.

Unlike in India, cows in Indiana are not sacred; as a matter of fact, they’re considered somewhat second-class animals because they stink and draw flies. I recall that sometimes they wandered away from their pastures and into our yard, leaving inelegant fecal matter in their tracks. Brown cows reminded me brown cow patties. I decided their entire commonplace image needed a makeover.

Those who are familiar with “Cow Parade” ( know the blank cow sculptures sell for tens of thousands of dollars after artists add their individual flourishes. Well, Kokomo Indiana isn’t exactly the Isle of Capri nor The Principality of Liechtenstein, so I doubt the poor fey citizens of the cornfields had ever considered bovine art. Each elementary school child colored his cow in various drab shades of brown, black, and cream – that is to say, all except yours truly. With over 100 crayons, why settle for the ordinary?

Our teacher hung each child’s artistic cow around the room in preparation for the big night. One magnificent magenta cow stood out in the crowd. She pointed to it and asked the class “What is wrong with this picture?”

Tim Harshbarger proudly raised his hand and proclaimed “Cows aren’t purple!”

“You’re right,” she said.

It wasn’t purple, it was magenta! One might think in an art class, of all places, one might be allowed to be creative.

The next day at school, I found my magenta cow had disappeared from the “gallery.” Amy Royal told me that parents were laughing at it and our teacher was so embarrassed by my masterpiece she removed it from sight. From that moment, the world lost forever a potential Picasso.

What I admire so much in Jim Warren is that he endured the humiliation of an F on his surrealistic drawing and was thrown out of art class, yet believed in himself enough to never give up his dreams. His ambition and focus paid off handsomely -an army of awards and boatloads of admiration as monuments to his resolve.

Walfrido Garcia had a somewhat rosy row to hoe; he was born into an artistic family who nurtured his creativity. “My father is a painter, and I always thought he had a cool way of dealing with people, and I didn’t even know it was a living. I just knew that that’s what he did, and when I developed my talent through his tutelage, it was more than just knowing, it was like being born into the family genre,” said Walfrido.

During the cruise, Walfrido painted spectacular oils depicting the Greek Islands, each laden with glorious fuchsia bougainvilleas and masses of exquisite roses flanking heavenly maritime vistas. Flyers announcing the artist read “His style of ‘Romantic Realism’ plays upon the quality of light in nature whether it is a romantic moonlight, a brilliant sunset, or the awe-inspiring glow of his signature ‘Lavascapes.'”

All three artists painted live before enthralled audiences, and the art gallery cheerfully framed and sold them at auction for prices typically ranging from five to ten thousand dollars. The minimum opening bid for Wyland’s “Timeless Sea” was 54,880.00 plus fifteen percent buyer’s premium. As a reward for being an elite-level passenger, Princess gave me a coupon for $25 off my choice of any masterpiece.

Bill Lazic, Art Manager on the Ruby Princess said “It’s an honor for us, one of the highest honors to have Wyland, one of the biggest names in the art world, one of the biggest names we represent here on Princess Cruises. He’s the number one marine realist in the entire world, number one environmental artist in the world, and recently named by the United Nations the artist of the environment for the world, for children.”

As a leading advocate for marine resource conservation, he was selected as the official artist for the “green” Olympics in Beijing last year. The honor continues as the official artist for 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London Olympics. A plethora of accomplishments wrought by this Renaissance man are offered on the corporate website,

The grand event of the cruise itinerary was most spectacular; as the Ruby Princess sailed into Venice, and the music of Andrea Bocelli played on the ship speakers, Wyland painted the floor of the Neptune pool, the ship’s principal aquatic playground.

“This is an industry first,” said Lazic, “to have such a well known artist to paint our largest pool onboard. It’s the first time anywhere in the world that something like this was done. At the beginning of the cruise, we called our senior vice president and everyone at the headquarters. The captain, Tony Draper, mentioned this to them, and they were all on board – everyone was excited for this because it’s going to be a wonderful message for everybody, especially with Princess being an environmental company. We have an environmental officer on the ship; his sole purpose is to educate the crew, make sure this ship is performing to all regulations, and make sure that we’re green, to make sure that we’re not disposing anything that shouldn’t be disposed. That’s his job, and he reports directly to the captain. Princess is a leading company when it comes to the environment, and this is going to be one of the greatest environmental messages ever for our company.”

In somewhat of a mystic homage, a pod of dolphins followed the ship on the starboard side just as the pool was being drained and prepared as Wyland’s canvas.
“In ancient Greece, dolphins were worshipped as gods, and the penalty for hurting one was death,” said Wyland at a presentation before he descended into the Neptune pool.

Befitting the spirit of the ancient Greeks, Wyland drew a colossal cow dolphin, her baby calf, and (proximally) a sea turtle, while hundreds of excited onlookers crowded into every nook and cranny to catch a glimpse of history in the making. Bully for Wyland for painting them in royal blue.

The story is not over. Wyland plans to create a series of 100 public sculptures, open a chain of seafood restaurants, buy a luxury resort and turn it into marine-themed haven, swim under the Antarctic ice with a crew of filmmakers, open a “Wyland Museum of the Seas” in San Diego, and continue his generous philanthropic endeavors – all in the name of environmental protectionism.

Wyland is wildly successful, and has the Midas touch for almost everything he promulgates.

The art world has a lot of sleazy dealings going on, but Wyland retains his clean-cut, high-integrity image by keeping all of his projects above board, while treating others with consummate respect.

As an environmentalist, he has earned a place in history as “Savior of the Seas,” and to many marinophiles, he is thought of as a sort of saint-protector of the sea environment.

“I love what I do, and love sharing my art with others,” said Wyland, whose works of art are seen by an estimated one billion people each year. “I’m not into being a bitter, starving, angry Bohemian,” he said as an art collector shelled out $3,400 for one of his drawings which consisted of only five or six strokes of a sumi brush.

With that kind of success, who has time to be bitter? Certainly not Wyland!

Follow Anton Anderssen’s travels around the world at

Wyland paints signature maritime dolphins on Ruby Princess’ Neptune pool
Photo by Dr. Anton Anderssen

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