Louis Masai: Painting for Conservation
All pictures, video & content by Stefan Hunt (22/04/18)
Louis Masai is an artist based in London and, when he’s not working in his studio, he’s traveling across the world painting spectacular murals in public spaces. Mass extinction and endangered species are the inspiration behind Louis’ work and the combination of his dramatic artwork and inspiring environmental messages looked like a great way of getting more people engaged in wildlife conservation.
In the heart of the borough of Lewisham in London, Louis had started sketching his design onto an underpass that connects the bustling high street with a housing estate on the other side of the train line. A small river flows just the other side of the underpass and it is one of few reminders of the natural world in this concrete jungle.
Louis studied fine art at Falmouth University before moving to London and explained how he has always been passionate about animals and wildlife.
It is amazing to watch the process of creating a mural. Painting in a public space clearly requires a different set of tools to painting a canvas and Louis has a large collection of brightly coloured cans of spray paint. The smell and the fumes from the paint are overpowering. Louis uses a can of spray paint like most of us would use a pen and effortlessly draws detailed designs onto a crumbling brick wall.
After he finishes sketching out the initial outline of the mural, he fills the subject with solid, brightly coloured, blocks.
Following that Louis creates a patchwork of different designs within the blocks of colour, with a variety of different pop culture references, from Burberry to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Finally he adds the highs and shadows to create a 3D effect and bring the animal to life. These final touches really change the mural from a sea of vibrant colours into a clear and complete picture. It's interesting to see the different details people pick up on walking past and finally seeing the whole piece come together at the end.
Louis’ unique style sets him apart from other street artists and makes his work instantly recognisable. Not only are his murals focused on animals, particularly endangered species, but are painted in the design of a toy covered in a vibrant patchwork. The patchwork adds an extra element of detail and colour that would not be possible if the animal was painted in a realistic style.
Louis explained that the toy partly symbolises the gift people often receive when adopting an animal from various conservation charities. It also represents the idea that the species has become extinct and all we have left is a toy. The toy is our reward for driving the species to extinction.
The idea behind this particular piece was to link the people walking down the bustling high street to the river flowing on the other side of the train track, the mural alongside highlighting the rivers presence also reflects on the importance of natural spaces particularly in London.
While painting the mural Louis highlighted the amount of rubbish, and particularly plastic, that was in the river the other side of the underpass. Exasperated at the impact it could have. “Quote”
The mural was also designed to highlight the plight of the Otter across the UK but also the recovery the species has made. The Eurasian Otter seriously declined through the second half of the 20th century through a combination of habitat loss and pesticide use.
However otters have now been recorded in every county in the UK, even London, and if the waterways continue to be improved maybe one day they could even return to Lewisham. The mural not only raises the awareness of a species that was close to extinction but also sparks conversation about the importance of maintaining our natural and wild spaces for both people and wildlife to thrive.
These murals will reach a different demographic of people and will speak to people in a different way to many traditional conservation messages that can often be overly scientific and preachy. Caroline surename organised the commission of the mural and is passionate about creating more street art in the community.
So... what’s next? “everyone likes elephants – what about an orchid”
It is always thought-provoking to see science and art combined. Not only do these pieces look amazing and make a real difference to areas that can look particularly run down, but they also stimulate people to think about the environment and spark conversations about endangered species that would otherwise never happen. The murals are clearly very effective with younger audiences who are often missed by many conservation efforts. The number of school children who stopped to look and photograph the mural on their walk home from school was incredible. These photos were quickly shared through social media and the conservation conversation begins to spread far beyond the local community.
Louis explained how a variety of different people and organisations, such as Green Peace, have retrospectively posted his work on social media and it has gone viral months or years after it was finished showing how there pieces of art can have a long term effect.
Hopefully these murals can stimulate conversation and get people to think about the environment and the impacts they have upon it. I hope we will continue to see art work like this shared all over the world in a way which encourages people to talk about the environment, improves our public spaces, is accessible to all and inspires the next generation of conservationists.
Ask Stef about this turtally awesome photo story below!
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Interesting Articles &Websites
http://www.ascension-island.gov.ac/government/conservation/ - Ascension Island Government Conservation Department Page
https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-projects/details.aspx?id=372957 - More information from the RSPB on the marine protected area
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10531-014-0759-6 - Recovery of the South Atlantic’s largest green turtle nesting population
https://vimeo.com/131105510 - Time-lapse of the conservation team clearing invasive plants
http://www.britainstreasureislands.com - Learn more about the British overseas territories from Stewart McPherson's great series
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU0p1wB__2U - Don't believe crabs eat turtles..
https://vimeo.com/134964509 - 2015 green turtle season film