“Louis Masai is a visual artist based in London. He uses his research on endangered species as a topic of discussion to heighten the general public’s awareness of the ‘sixth mass extinction’. When not working in the studio, Masai travels around the world painting murals in cities, towns, and villages. These are often of locally endangered species. His paintings have reached out to people in ways that environmentalists and activists find hard to capture. To this effect, he often works alongside scientists, and conservationists as well as environmentally minded companies.”
Listen to our full podcast interview with Louis here
We loved talking art and impact in this conversation with Louis (something we don’t ordinarily get to do). Here’s a little more on what we learned about Louis and his work.
Louis has always loved animals. Growing up in Surrey, England (on a green belt) he loved walking in the woods and his room was covered in pictures of animals. Born to parents who were artists themselves (his mom creates incredible 3D pieces and his dad uses fine art to tell stories) and into a family where art had been part of the story for generations, it is of little surprise that Louis has grown into a hugely well-respected artist.
Louis studied fine art at Falmouth University in Cornwall and while he enjoyed being surrounded by artists and musicians, it took time and a move back to London for Louis to become the artist he wanted to be. For Louis it has been a case of backing himself, focusing on the projects and style that felt right to him and allowing ideas to evolve organically. The idea that has felt most important, organic and natural to Louis has been raising awareness for endangered and threatened species. The more he has learned about these issues, the more they have influenced him as a person and in turn, his art. Louis now almost exclusively uses art (in various forms) to give endangered species a voice. While his murals of local animals can be found all over the world, from the USA to South Africa, Louis also creates original art which he sells on his online store and in solo shows. Over the years, Louis has expanded his repertoire, recently adding a podcast and a series of short films to his paintings and sculptures.
Ecosystems and biodiversity are of great interest to Louis – he signs off all his work with “One Love” which represents “the humanity of people and the warmth of people”. To Louis, it is important that we recognize that we are all one: “We can’t be one race, we can’t be one species but we can be one love… the more you embrace love, the stronger we can be as a planet”
In our interview with Louis, we touched on a couple of his recent projects which illustrate his interest in ecosystems:
Endangered 13 was produced by Human Nature and Louis Masai in 2016. The idea came from The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park in London, an unusual cemetery in that it doubles as a nature reserve and hosts a huge variety of butterflies (30+ species). The cemetery borders a railway line that had 13 industrial looking arches and the idea was to paint the arches to make the area more attractive and raise awareness for endangered species. Louis and the Human Nature team raised funding for the project and organized a collective of 13 artists to make it happen. The Human Nature website has pictures of all 13 pieces of art – see here. For lucky Londoners or travelers, you can see it in person at Ackroyd Drive, Tower Hamlets, London
The Art of Beeing is the project that originally drew us to Louis and we were fortunate enough to see one of his Murals in Sacramento when we traveled through earlier this year. The Art of Beeing came from Louis’ idea to tie each animal he painted to where it is from. He traveled to 13 cities in the US over 9 weeks with London based film team, his friends, Where’s Kong and painted more than 20 murals of endangered or threatened species that were local to each respective area. Louis picked the US for its diversity, its vast changing landscape and the sheer number of species. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign and sponsorships (e.g. from EcoAlf), the trip took 9 weeks and was “one of the hardest” things Louis has done. Each animal was painted as a patchwork animal, an idea that evolved from wanting to brighten a painting to the underlying message that if an animal is extinct, we will only have toys to remember it by. Across the entire series of murals, Louis used the “thread” of bees (each mural includes a bee, a needle and thread) which illustrates how ecosystems are all connected and how important it is for us all to unite and work together to solve the planet’s toughest environmental problems.
Louis told us that the trip was amazing. For each mural, he tried to connect with the species that he was painting – either directly or through talking about them with local people that could help him understand the realness and essence of each animal in more depth. He was also able to interact with locals and better understand how they view nature and ecosystem breakdown in their own area. Louis shared a story of how a Bushwick, NYC local reacted negatively to his mural given its contribution to gentrification. This is a tricky issue for Louis as he believes conscious art serves an important purpose but is also very much against gentrification and its impact on local people. In this case, Louis took the time to speak with this local man, explained the Art of Beeing Project and in turn, managed to better understand the man’s concerns with gentrification. A simple act of love and empathy that’s sorely missing in society today.
One of Louis’ most recent projects, the All Fruits Ripe Podcast was of particular interest to us given our recent foray into the podcast world. This project is a joint effort with London-based DJ / Producer / Soundman / Engineer, Hylu and their podcast manifesto states:
“Via open discussions and exploration into environmental issues with experts in their given field, we aim to unearth the ways that many inspiring individuals are picking their own ripened fruits. Discussions will be across the board, including; artists, musicians, poets, scientists, chefs, curators, environmentalists, and many more.
The common thread will be one of love for the natural environment and their concerns of climate change. Each podcast features four records played in stereo format on a record player, powered by Unit 137 sound system. One track will be selected by our guest, one by Hylu, one by Masai and then a remix or similar of our guests track.”
A pretty unique concept for a podcast! We have been listening along and would encourage anyone interested in this space to have a listen (we have embedded an episode in this article above) – it is informative, relaxed and inspiring. At the moment, Louis and Hylu are sharing one episode a month and intend to invite a range of guests onto the show to encourage a broad perspective.
In the coming year, Louis is planning a solo show in London, a residency in Berlin and potentially additional projects on plants, farm animals and perhaps even a vegan cookbook. No doubt, Louis work will continue to turn heads and inspire change!
Stay in touch with Louis and support his work:
*Note: this is not a sponsored post. We were not paid to write this post. This was entirely voluntary and driven by our curiosity and desire to support environmental outcomes!*