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Monday, May 29, 2023

Art Empire

I don’t have a job,” says Wyland, the marine life artist who legally shortened his name 20 years ago to just his surname. “I have a lifestyle. The more fun I have the better we do.”

Wyland, now in his 50s, is best known for his whale murals and heads up Aliso Viejo’s Wyland Worldwide LLC.

His 100 “Whaling Wall” murals are scattered throughout the world. The largest wraps around Long Beach Arena.

Wyland’s first whale mural is outside his flagship art gallery in Laguna Beach.

His company owns several galleries. Wyland’s paintings and sculptures, some of which go for tens of thousands of dollars, are sold in his galleries and others, and through distributors across the world.

Founded 34 years ago, Wyland Worldwide runs largely on a licensing model. It earns royalties by licensing Wyland’s artwork and by lending the Wyland name to various products.

“My team and I choose the licensing companies we want to work with,” Wyland said. “I used to go out after things. But now things are coming to me. People recognize the strength of the brand.”

His company recently signed a deal to license figurines for Carthage, Mo.-based Precious Moments Inc. He also just finished a Nemo piece for Walt Disney Co.

Shoreview, Minn.-based Deluxe Corp. sells checks stamped with Wyland art. Laguna Canyon Winery sells Wyland Cellars wine.

A licensing deal with a clothing maker could close soon, according to Wyland.

He just published his 21st book. He produces films and started a record company, Wyland Records.

“I’ve got my hands in a lot of things,” he said. “I’m writing a blues CD right now, a double album.”

The CD, “Blues Planet,” is set to be recorded in New Orleans by various yet-to-be-announced musicians and released this year. The recording is part of his Gulf oil spill documentary set to be released this year.

“Basically, I follow my passion, which is art driven,” Wyland said. “But I use my art to engage people about cause-related issues.”


Wyland became an environmental activist long before green was hip.

He dives to observe and photograph sea life before he paints or sculpts it.

His business exists so he can create art and promote ocean and water conservation, Wyland said.

“Our success really benefits my nonprofit, the Wyland Foundation,” he said. “My whole company is involved in my cause.”

Wyland largely aims his education efforts at youth.

The foundation is granting $20,000 to 30 teachers from Los Angeles and Orange counties in April to support their environmental teachings.

Wyland personally spent $750,000 to build Wyland’s Clean Water Mobile Learning Center, a truck that rolls into schools, fairs and festivals to encourage students to be good stewards of the planet.

Locally, he teams on educational projects with Dana Point’s Ocean Institute marine science center, where he’s a board member.

Marketing and branding come naturally to Wyland.

“You just dream up cool stuff, and then you just put it out in the universe and make it happen,” he said. “I go with the flow, that’s for sure.”

Estimated Business Size

Wyland has created a business empire that’s estimated to spur $25 million to $100 million a year in revenue from art sales and licensed products.

Like any good artist, Wyland said he’s less interested in finances.

“I’m not good with numbers,” he said. “It’s really very boring for me. But I do understand that my company has to be successful for my foundation to achieve the high goals that I’ve set.”

Wyland Worldwide employs 75 people. His mother Darlene Wyland and other family members work for the company. His mother raised Wyland and his three brothers on her own in Detroit, where as a kid he was called by his last name, something that was meant as a slight.

“I like to take negatives and make them positive,” he said. “I like to take ugly walls and make beautiful art.”

Wyland said he likes to think of himself as a hybrid of two of his heroes, Walt Disney and Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who brought the underwater world to TV in the 1960s and 1970s.

He said he also admires Virgin Group’s Richard Branson and the Dalai Lama.

“Richard Branson is somebody I admire for his vision,” he said.

The Dalai Lama? He’s “super cool,” Wyland said.

He said he met both of them at a conference in Calgary, Alberta, where all three were speaking.

(Branson spoke at the University of California, Irvine, last month, while the Dalai Lama is set to speak there in May.)


Wyland is a creative tornado. He’ll get an idea and suck everyone in.

“I just say, ‘Hey, tell me later what it costs. Let’s just do this,’” he said.

Steve Creech, vice president and Wyland’s right-hand man, can vouch for that. Once, the two were driving back from a speaking engagement and Wyland got the idea to paint the roof of the Long Beach Arena for Earth Day.

“Our conversation was: ‘I don’t think I can find that much paint, and if I find that much paint, it needs to be environmentally friendly paint,’” Creech said. “I tried to talk him out of doing this. We spent the next six months trying to figure out a way to do it.”

Dunn-Edwards Corp. ended up supplying the eco-friendly paint. Now there is a giant Earth mural on top of the arena.

“He’s always dreaming up new things,” Creech said. “He’s got a work ethic that would blow most people away.”

Wyland’s latest venture is Wyland’s Ocean Blue, an upscale restaurant and art gallery chain that promotes sustainable seafood and conservation. The third restaurant recently opened in Plano, Texas. More are slated to open in California, Texas and Louisiana this year.

Wyland also plans to open Wyland boutique hotels with galleries.

His first, the Wyland Waikiki in Hawaii, was sold a few years ago and now is a Courtyard by Marriott.

“We got a tremendous offer,” he said. “You’ll see me doing a lot more Wyland boutique hotels.”

In fine art circles, Wyland’s art has been viewed as lowbrow. He’s also been criticized for being a marketing machine.

None of that concerns him, Wyland said.

“I put my art out there in creative ways, not caring too much what art critics are saying,” he said.

Accessibility is one reason he’s been successful, according to Wyland.

“I’ve always tried to be nice to people, I made friends,” he said. “I wasn’t some snobby artist.”


Wyland travels often and has homes in Laguna Beach, Hawaii and the Florida Keys.

All three are live-work studios. He paints or sculpts every day.

He’s in the midst of a 25-year project to put up 100 sculptures in cities across the world. The first one is at the Beijing International Sculpture Park. He put that one up after the 2008 Olympics. He was the official artist of the games.

He’s using recycled materials, metals, glass and marble to create the sculptures.

“I’m going to do as many aquatic animals as I can, saltwater and freshwater, all the great whale species,” he said. “Some of them will be underwater, so you’ll have to snorkel or dive to see some.”

Wyland keeps his schedule on his phone and an iPad.

“I plan my whole year in the first part of January,” he said. “I try to block some time where I can go diving or have some downtime.”

His day begins by working on art.

“I get up, I get my coffee, I go into my studio,” he said. “I don’t have to get into traffic. It’s very efficient. I don’t go in there as a job. I go in there going, ‘Wow man, I can’t wait to get in there to create some cool art.’ I have a very simple life.”

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