Officials from the California Coastal Commission announced today that they will be switching out the specialized Robert Wyland-designed whale tail license plate, which has sold close to 200,000 copies and raised over $60 million for environmental protection programs since being introduced in 1997, with a different (but very similar) version, available to the motoring public starting Aug. 2.
The unveiling of the new whale tail design effectively marks the end of a three-year-long war of words between Wyland—who goes by his last name only and is, by far, the most commercially successful artist Laguna Beach has ever produced—and state officials.
The dispute began when Wyland, who had originally donated the use of his work, requested that the state start giving 20 percent of the plate's annual profits to Wyland's environmental charity. The state balked, and instead chose to find another whale tail design.
After the new plate was revealed, it became apparent that neither Wyland nor the Coastal Commission will be on one another's Christmas card list anytime soon. Christiane Parry, director of public programs for the Coastal Commission, told the Los Angeles Times that the new design "looks like a bright day that is very evocative of California. The old one was more hazy and moody, but this is a little more optimistic."
Meanwhile, Steve Creech, project director of the Wyland Foundation, told the Times that the new image is "a very poor imitation of a Wyland artwork," and that Wyland was "shunted aside with little more than a thank you."
Not hard to read between any of those lines. Apparently the war of words continues.
The new-look plate, an amalgam of two designs which were entered as part of a contest, is certainly brighter, sunnier and more detailed, looking like a scene that plays out regularly along the Laguna coastline, as opposed to Wyland's cold-fog-bank-off-San-Francisco approach on the old plate.
Wyland has deep roots in Laguna Beach. He arrived here in 1977 from Michigan, opened a gallery, and began painting a series of what he termed "whaling walls" a few years later—essentially large murals depicting various marine life such as rays, dolphins and turtles, but primarily whales. His goal of painting 100 whaling walls around the world was reached in 2008 in Beijing.
The first of these 100 murals (albeit a since-repainted and tiled one) is visible along the exterior wall of his . Several others of his murals are in Laguna Beach, as well as San Clemente and Long Beach, where he painted what the Guinness Book of World Records declared the planet's largest mural, a depiction of whales (of course) on the outside circumference of the Long Beach Arena.