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State Government Kicks Wyland's Tail, Announces New Whale License Plate

The state officially ends a kerfuffle with the famed Laguna Beach muralist.

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.

Susan Fish July 15, 2011 at 12:49 PM
Of course, Wyland's. I was on a cruise ship several years ago when Wyland was the artist brought on by the cruise line. He is so down to earth, generous individual. He has done such good things for the environment.
st0ked July 15, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Wyland down to earth? Please. They paid him to be on that cruise and then he took all of your extra cash by selling his 10 minute pieces. But on to the matter at hand. Mr. Creech, don't you think that you are being a bit pretentious by claiming that the whale tail is a poor imitation? Robert W does not own the rights to a whale tail. I'm guessing that the CCC might have suggested a different rendering of our coast if Wyland hadn't been such a baby about the fallout. Let Wylnd take his crayons and go home to Michigan (oops, he's not really from an area that supports an ocean environment?). I would have rather seen the plate with maybe a dolphin or a grey but this may be the slap that Wyland deserves. I will pre order my new plates and In two years when allowed, I will put my Wyland plates on eBay so I too can take advantage of his charity.
Ross Chun July 18, 2011 at 03:50 PM
Well, I'm keeping my Wyland plates. Personal opinions aside, its a classic.
Tasha Figueroa July 18, 2011 at 03:52 PM
why such harsh words from a man that doesnt know Wyland "stoke". I do not know him personally but have seen him several times and know of his work with our ocean and creating awareness, which he has done more( not coming from a Ocean Enviroment as you put it) then anyone that has been from one. there is no figting that. second his job is to sell paintings that is what artists do ( go figure, i know its crazy). Wyland has always been an exceptional artist, and ocean advocate and that is all i can comment on since i do not know him as a person, and i am in no way shape or form able to comment on that since who the hell am I to do so! I can say that the state is being way immature in this, even if wyland is throwing a fit, the 99 cent store knock off of a beautiful piece that has raised $60 million dollars is horrible! it is a cartoon depiction, and one that i would not pay for, i better hurry and get a wyland, i would rather have foggy wyland tail, instead of cartoon sunny tail! i would pick a mickey mouse plate over this new one! again thank you cali for being major pains in the butts and ruining a good thing! keeps with the theme!

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