Aaron Glasson

Artist, oceans advocate, and New Zealand native Aaron Glasson sees the earth as one giant connected ecosystem. That understanding drives his vibrant graphic work, from large-scale street murals to politically-motivated illustrations. As the creative director of ocean awareness non-profit PangeaSeed, he brings visibility to the big issues through art—and by getting people involved in projects like SeaWalls: Artists for Oceans. “We want to make ocean conservation as cool as the latest Taylor Swift song,” he explains. “Making these concepts of conservation and sustainability mainstream is where the substantial positive change is, I think.”

How would you describe your work and your background as an artist, and as an activist?

I work in a lot of mediums. Recently, mostly murals, paintings, illustration, films, and installations. I’ve always loved art and the natural world, so naturally forged a path in both—though I didn’t always know that was possible. I grew up in New Zealand and went to art school there. I loved it, but I remember having periods of inner torment, wishing I’d studied environmental science. I’d make these dramatic paintings about the devastation of the natural world, but it wasn’t until years later and the internet that I realized the potential of art in conservation.

Aaron Glasson

After art school, I drifted around the world for years. I did a lot of art-related stuff: conservation, social justice, and education work. In 2008, I worked for Sea Shepard Conservation Society on an Antarctic campaign to stop Japanese whaling ships and straight after that I (ironically) moved to Japan and taught at a kindergarten. In Japan, I met Tre Packard, who had just formed PangeaSeed and was putting on events in Tokyo. Tre’s idea was to use art to elevate ocean conservation, educate and raise public awareness. That was 2009, and I immediately came on as PangeaSeed Creative Director. In 2012-13, we relocated to the U.S., and it’s been strongly growing as an organization and movement since. Lately, I’ve been doing what I can to raise funds and awareness about what’s happening at Standing Rock also.

Protect the Sacred

What first sparked your interest in the oceans and marine preservation? What have you learned along the way that has kept you inspired?

I’ve been surfing since I was kid, and growing up in New Zealand the ocean was huge part of my life. I think my upbringing there fostered a deep appreciation and concern for the oceans. I’ve also travelled a lot and seen the environmental impact of our lives firsthand. I’ve learned a lot, but most importantly the earth is, simply put, one big eco-system; the Gaia Hypothesis. I think we tend to look around us and not see the big picture often enough. Our choices and actions have far-reaching effects; whether that’s positive or negative is up to us. I’ve been discouraged often by human ignorance, but just as frequently I’m inspired by people working hard to right the wrongs.

Aaron Glasson (collaboration with Celeste Byers)

What’s your process like? How do you find inspiration, and how long does a piece of work or series take to bring to life? Where is your work displayed or how is it distributed?

I’m just inspired by life. That sounds cliché, but it’s how it is. It’s all around. Large murals generally take five days or so to complete, whereas I just finished a small painting that took months. It’s all relative.

Aaron Glasson (collaboration with Celeste Byers) Aaron Glasson (collaboration with Celeste Byers)

What’s the story behind PangeaSeed? What have you accomplished so far, and what are you looking forward to achieving?

Tre Packard actually founded PangeaSeed, and I came on soon after. He started it because he was concerned about sharks and finning. At the time he was living in Tokyo, and there was no organization actively working to stop the mass slaughter of sharks there. In the past seven years, PangeaSeed has grown to a network of hundreds of artists, scientists, and conservationists. Through the art and events, we’ve reached and educated an innumerable amount of people about what’s happening to the seas and its inhabitants. Most importantly, it’s inspired and empowered action. With the SeaWalls: Artists for Oceans projects, we’ve painted hundreds of murals around the world, all advocating for the oceans. We are collaborating more and more with the scientific community to combine forces also. So far we’ve done all this with little or no funding; we are all volunteers.

We want to make ocean conservation as cool as the latest Taylor Swift song. Making these concepts of conservation and sustainability mainstream is where the substantial positive change is, I think.

What reaction would you like people to have to your work – and what message do you want them to take away?

I’d like people to feel awe and appreciation for life, in all its forms.

Aaron Glasson

Aaron Glasson (collaboration with Celeste Byers) Aaron Glasson (collaboration with Celeste Byers)

Learn more about Aaron Glasson on PangeaSeed and follow his work on Instagram.

January 2, 2017