Volume 15, Issue 45  | June 6, 2023Subscribe

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Beneath the Waves

By Nancy Carpenter

“The sea in the sun an extension of the city” –Aram Saroyan

My first sighting of the recently completed Beneath the Waves mural – assuming sighting is the proper word for this kind of experience – was from the Forest Street entrance. This put the mural to my left as I walked through the parking lot toward Ocean Street. Many murals are intended to be read left to right, and so my happenchance impressions followed the intent of the South African contemporary artist Sonny Behan. As I slowly walked its length, the wall, once motionless brick, was alive with the ebb and flow of jellyfish native to our local waters.

beneath the trees

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Approaching from Forest to Ocean Avenue

This particular morning, I was scheduled to meet Behan as well as Chase Offield of Offield Family Foundation, and Kyla Van Maanen of PangeaSeed Foundation. The trio was critical to making this happen.

Let’s start with the artist. In his formal proposal to the two foundations and Laguna Beach, Behan stated, “A mural of jellyfish is a perfect choice as these creatures are not only captivating but also crucial to the health of our oceans. The realistic depiction of the jellyfish flowing across the wall from left to right symbolizes the constant movement and interconnectedness of the ocean ecosystem.”

beneath the closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Close up view

Starting from the mural’s brighter end, the 1,090-square-foot painting illustrates the metaphorical transformation of at-risk Pacific Sea Nettle evolving into balloons in the darker right section. Plastic debris polluting our oceans is the culprit. The threat is dire yet the imagery is beautiful and more important, a meaningful reminder that much is at stake unless we protect our oceans and the biodiversity they support.

beneath the painting

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Courtesy of PangeaSeed

Behan working on the mural

Painting on this grand scale is not easy. I asked Behan about the physical process once the research is completed and a smaller version is mapped out on his iPad. He summed it up in three steps: prep, prime, paint. That seemed too simple for something that took over a week to execute. But for him, this is routine. At least he didn’t rely on a crane, a requirement when murals reach heights out of the range of ladders and scaffolding. His wildlife murals, magnificent in their detail, can be found in streets and galleries around the world. Or catch a sampling of his work at his website, by clicking here.

Behan’s proposal and early sketches supported the vision of local ocean activist Chase Offield an active member of the nonprofit Offield Family Foundation. He is passionate about marine conservation and the ocean which is synonymous with Laguna Beach. “We do have an effect on our world,” he said as we stepped closer to exam some of the detail. His goal is to ensure all of us do better as stewards of our environment. “By limiting the use of single-use plastics and promoting more sustainable alternatives, we can reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the oceans, mitigate harm to marine life, preserve marine habitats, and protect the overall health and resilience of our oceans.” In short, a lot can be gained when we increase our awareness of how much trash we create and understand the impact of where it ends up.

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beneath the vertical

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Different perspective of “Beneath the Waves”

Offield Family Foundation, based in Chicago, is not a stranger to Laguna Beach. Two years ago, SchoolPower Endowment received a grant to support art education. Last year and a couple dozen miles or so off our shores, the Catalina Chimes Tower Foundation received funds for the ongoing work to preserve Catalina Island’s historic and iconic landmark.

Did Behan and Offield brainstorm this project over a latte one afternoon? Not quite. The PangeaSeed Foundation and their Program Manager Kyla Van Maanen played a significant role. Van Maanen’s background in art and marine biology makes her a natural to spearhead this latest endeavor.

PangeaSeed Foundation is a global nonprofit organization focused on merging culture with environmental conservation. As they see it, individuals and communities can influence meaningful change through increased public awareness and the incorporation of science, education and ARTivism, which forms an easy acronym: S.E.A. Their groundbreaking public art program “Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans,” has produced more than 500 ocean advocacy murals in 19 countries. As Van Maanen puts it, they bring “the ocean into the streets across the globe.” PangeaSeed is based in Hawaii; they are literally surrounded by an ocean they are committed to protecting. They summarize it best when they say, “Oceans are the life support system of our planet and humankind.”

This was the Foundation’s first Laguna Beach project, which began once the city was nominated. After the green light was given, Siân Poeschl of the Laguna Beach Arts Commission guided PangeaSeed through the public art permit process. Jamie Bichler oversaw the parking lot needs. And of course, the building’s owner gave the necessary go-ahead to turn a wall into one very large canvas.

After our interviews, I walked Downtown Laguna Beach. There are other murals to be seen, many on Laguna Canyon Road which was a bit farther than I wanted to go this particular day. As for Downtown installations, we can thank Collette Miller for Wings, a popular spot for a photo standing between, well, two elaborate wings. Who isn’t familiar with Whaling Wall by Robert Wyland, one of our first murals? A Day in the Life by Randy Morgan has a three-dimensional quality that plays with light and shadow. Efforts can be on a grand scale, or a little more modest. I like Jo Situ Allen’s Daytripper for its delicate, etch-like quality. Beneath the Waves provides another reason to make a day of mural-hopping.

beneath the cars

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A long-distance view of “Beneath the Waves” walking from the opposite direction

My walk brought me full circle to Ocean Avenue and a different approach to our latest addition. Now I was reading the mural right to left, giving a sense of plastic morphing into jellyfish. Despite the huge and horrific islands of plastic debris floating in our oceans, visible from airplanes and with no place to go, there is still time to save the Pacific Sea Nettle as well as the wealth of creatures that make up our planet.

Jacques Yves Cousteau summed it up: “We’re all in the same boat.”

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO -

Lana Johnson, Editor -

Tom Johnson, Publisher -

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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