Each month Shark Guardian selects an artist that goes above and beyond for the sake of the ocean and all its inhabitants. We believe that artists, like photographers, play a vital and often underestimated role in ocean conservation. They inspire, educate and cultivate passions that may never have been sparked. Each month during 2021 we are shining a light on some of the great artists we’ve had the privilege of working with - come join us!
Our eco-artist for April is the wonderful Alex Loew from The Fin Arts!
Tell us about yourself, what is your background?
I grew up in land-locked Bavaria, Germany but always had a fascination for the ocean and the creatures within. My Dad triggered my interest in drawing and art and also the respect for nature. As a dive instructor himself, I followed in his footsteps. After I finished college with a major in Art & Design in 2005, I moved to Thailand to the Island of Phuket, to work as a dive instructor. There I met my mentor and now Fin Arts partner Holger, the owner of Sea Bees Diving. I worked with Sea Bees Diving for 6 years before I decided to do my bachelor’s degree in multi-media journalism, in Bangkok.
With the impression of a declining marine environment during my time as a dive instructor and the visible decimation of shark populations, in Thailand and worldwide, I decided during my studies to put major emphasis on that topic. After I finished University I had the chance to do a one-year internship as a junior researcher for a legal recruitment firm in China. Working in Shanghai and Hong Kong, together with Bangkok, these are the epicenters of wildlife trade in Asia, I had ever more confrontations with the topic of shark finning and declining shark populations.
In 2017 I moved back to Phuket and started working in the yachting industry as a commercial diver. Knowing my background, my mentor and friend Holger came up with the idea of a joint venture, a social enterprise combining art and marine/shark conservation. This was inspired by projects, doing the same for other species, such as the Elephant Parade. With Holger taking care of the financial and business side and me being responsible for building the artistic and visual side of the venture, the Fin Arts were born as a start-up in 2017.
Can you explain to us The Fin Arts as it’s not quite your average studio?
The Fin Arts is a combination of art and shark conservation our shark sculptures are supposed to shed light on this magnificent species and the threads sharks are facing. We want to create awareness through creative and positive means. Our inhouse artists are working all the time on new designs, which are displaying the shark as ‘Nature’s Art’.
Artists worldwide are supporting the project with their art on our sharks, with the aim to create awareness for the necessity to protect sharks, this ‘Art of Nature’. The Fin Arts is also supposed to be a platform for junior artists to get their art out there and at the same time supporting our mission to paint a better future for sharks. With part of the proceeds, we are supporting different shark and marine
We also do our own events, where kids and adults can paint our sharks and take them away, to spread the word about how important it is to protect sharks for future generations.
What inspired your initial designs, before you invited other artists to join you?
I got a lot of inspiration from the underwater world. Many of my first designs were marine-based topics. There is so much inspiration underneath the surface - a different world with intense colors, abstract coral structures, and fascinating species.
Tell us about your journey with the sculptures themselves.
After I got inspired by my partner Holger, with the idea to create something similar for sharks, as the Elephant Parade is doing for Elephants, I started my investigation at their production site in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I interviewed the regional manager of the Elephant Parade and got all the information necessary. Back in Phuket, I found a family-run business doing sculptures made from poly resin and fiberglass. I went there for an apprenticeship to learn how to work with the material and do my own moulds. During art college in Germany, I got first introduced to clay sculpturing, this helped because it's a good material to do the first masterpieces. After that was a long process of sanding and bringing the masterpiece in the perfect shape. I did several moulds until I got it right, to copy identical pieces. After the first 30cm sculptures turned out as desired, I started painting them with different designs. Now I’ve designed a 150cm sculpture, 3 different 100cm sculptures, and working on the second 30cm sculpture.
The masterpieces we do by ourselves, the copying with the moulds is outsourced to another family-run sculpturing business on Phuket, since we are creating quite a high volume of shark sculptures already, we can’t cope with the production alone.
Sculptures are tangible, you can feel their structure. Our sharks are hand flattering, almost like marble.
Sculptures are a very realistic form of art, whereas painting creates an illusion of reality. It seemed to me sculptures are the perfect vehicle to bring art into the context of the harshly realistic problem sharks are facing worldwide. And sculptures are eternal.
We’re going to be very mean and ask you to pick a favourite design?
My favorite design is the Ghost Net, by our in-house artist Ko. When looking at it from the distance, the design appears quite harmonic and dynamic at the same time. Combining smooth, bluish, and greenish colors on a white background, with dynamic patterns, amplifying water movement. Looking closer one realizes the pattern as a big knot of ghost net wrapping the shark.
It’s a quite controversial design, pointing to one of the biggest threats sharks and other marine life are facing - ghost nets and plastic waste. I also love our Thai Style line very much.
If you weren’t painting fibreglass sharks, what would you be creating?
Maybe I’d be creating a fibreglass boat ;) Definitely, I’d still try to paint a better future for sharks and the marine environment in some way.
When did you first become aware of the need for shark conservation?
One reason for seeing reefs and marine wildlife stocks decline was sharks were hunted, for their fins, in huge numbers out of the waters around Thailand and worldwide, I learned first hand, that the shark as the apex predator is crucial for the balance of a healthy reef.
The first time I saw 3-4 meter big sharks, lifted from one fishing boat to the other by crane, right next to our dive boat, that broke my heart. This was in 2008/2009, Phuket waters.
What have been your observations of shark populations since 2010?
The most significant species we’ve seen disappear are leopard sharks. When I started diving, around Shark Point and Phi Phi island, I’d see leopard sharks in at least every other dive, by 2010, there were seasons where you wouldn’t even see a single one. It seems, recently shark populations are improving slightly, since the Thai Government developed more consciousness for their environment and try to protect their wildlife, also due to the work of different wildlife organizations.
Tell us about your favorite underwater experience with sharks?
During the 6 years working as a professional in the industry, mainly diving on live aboard, and more than 3000 dives, I had altogether only three encounters with whale sharks. When I came back after I moved to BKK, to do a live board during my semester breaks, I had the pleasure to dive with three whale sharks together in one 60min dive, that was amazing!
Can you describe the experience of seeing a shark for the first time?
It was a powerful impression to encounter this majestic apex predator, moving around effortlessly in its natural environment. I was awestruck by experiencing this ‘art of nature’ life.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?
The most rewarding part is to see that I create something positive that is inspiring people and especially the younger generation to appreciate sharks, nature, and art.
Please tell us about the incredible charitable work you do with The Fin Arts.
The main part of our charitable work is to support different shark conservation organizations in their educational and political work at the frontlines, financially, with the proceeds of our shark art. Our main partner in Asia is Shark Guardian. We think it’s necessary to educate the younger generation about how important it is to protect sharks and their environment. Shark Guardian is doing a fantastic job in schools all around South East Asia, educating kids. [Just a note from Shark Guardian here... we did not bribe Alex to say this!]
We donate shark sculptures to different charitable events and institutions like the Phuket Sunshine Village orphanage, where kids can let their creativity flow onto our sharks and at the same time learn about their story. By working with different local businesses in Phuket our sharks are giving us leverage to amplify the shark topic amongst residents.
What does the future hold for The Fin Arts?
My vision is to have exhibitions around the world where our big shark sculptures are displayed in a big shark-art-school, to create a lot of awareness. I also would love to have corporations with some famous artists to ultimately have a big impact on shark conservation.
You can also find and support The Fin Arts and their quest for a brighter future on Instagram, Facebook, and via their website using the links below.
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Grab your very own blank sculpture and paints and create your own work here!