The Art of Beeing: An Interview with Louis Masai
When speaking to Louis Masai, one thing is strikingly clear: that he is a truly valuable member of the sustainable art world. His oeuvres tell a powerful story about the broken nature of the animal kingdom, calling on mankind to work together in healing its wounds. While the reality of endangered species is too often overlooked, Louis Masai’s art expresses the vulnerability of all living things in a way that cannot be ignored. Just like his art, the following must serve as much of a warning as an interview.
Can you explain what the Art of Beeing is and how it came about?
The Art of Beeing is essentially a tour around the US to paint murals of stateside species that are in decline and affected by the Sixth mass extinction. I traveled with two good friends of mine who made a series of five short films about the trip, featuring the open discussions we had with advocates for US wildlife, activists, scientists, bee keepers and more. The reason it is called The Art of Beeing is because all of my paintings depict soft toy patchwork representations of animals being stitched together by a bee carrying a needle and thread. In this way, I have allowed my bees to become a metaphor to encourage people to join in with stitching the planet together – and to stop unstitching it.
In the Photo: A recent mural in Texas, Houston Toad: Anaxyrus houstonensis. Photo Credit: Emil Walker
Why do you think that art has the power to communicate messages to people?
I don’t think it does – I know it does. The difference is that some people are unaware that a message is being projected. Unfortunately, I think that the majority of art doesn’t either have one in the first place, or at least is unable to pass the intended message on to the audience. An artist is in a powerful position within society to transcribe important information subjectively, often with more than one purpose in the first place. For example, a painting might want to make the viewer appreciate its colours, composition and imagery, but it can then also attach a story to itself. So the viewer can choose either to enjoy – or not enjoy – the painting’s visual presence, or they can choose to take as many elements away as they would like. The job of the artist is to decide which components of the visual language are most important and how they can allow the viewer to leave with these components at the forefront of their experience.
What sort of responses have you been getting to the project?
99.9% of the time I receive positive responses, and probably even more now that I have been utilising my story for such a long period of time. Its been a while since I started, so the audience now expect to have a message of conservation attached to the work.
Photo: In California, Masai makes a statement about the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog: Rana muscosa. Photo Credit: JOSHUA GITTELMAN
Are there any murals or sculptures in this project that are particularly special to you?
Well, The Art of Beeing was only ever intended to be a mural project (although sculpture has been used to have the same conversations in other projects, and I’m finding that its actually even more effective at engaging the viewer in the story). Once I finish a mural, 80% of the time I never see it again for a multiple of reasons, other than fan photos on social media, of course. I am very quick to detach any emotions to my paintings, otherwise I would be sad when they are painted over or knocked down. However I have recently had the privilege of working either directly with the people that work closely with the conservation of the species or even meeting the species myself. The first time this happened was on the tour when I met a manatee just before painting one in Miami, Florida. These interactions really help me to create a great sense of attachment to the story itself, rather than to the paintings and artworks.
In the Photo: Louis Masai working on New England Cottontail Rabbit: Sylvilagus transitionalis. Photo Credit: Rachel Gonzalez
What are your hopes for the future regarding endangered species?
Well, it goes without saying that I would like to see species equality. I hope and pray that one day we will figure out a way to live with all the species on the planet instead of hunting, killing and competing with them.