The graffiti artist talks about diving with, painting and saving his beloved predator
LA-based artist Shark Toof has made quite a name for himself for his dangerously bold depictions of the world's most popular and misunderstood apex predator on street corners across the US. When asked about the genesis of his style and the reasoning behind his shark fetish, he says, "I feel like a lot of murals are wonderful to look at, but you engage them strictly with your mind and with your eyes. I've always wanted to create street pieces that are fun and interactive, that you stand next to and touch and take photos with. Sharks definitely let me achieve that."
This year at Pow Wow Hawaii, his great white was featured on the façade of Fresh Cafe, the artists' main meeting spot in Kaka'ako, and it was front and center for a reason; the artist flew in to Hawaii for the first time to work closely with Honolulu-based organization PangeaSeed, a non-profit dedicated to raise awareness and help educate the public on the importance of shark conservation and the preservation of ocean habitats.
It's nice to know that Toof's obsession with sharks is on the healthy side. "Being Chinese I grew up eating shark fin soup without even giving it a second thought—it was just something traditional to eat. And then of course when you become an adult you start to wonder, 'how does this food end up on my plate?' Once you do the slightest bit of research you realize some things really aren't necessary, especially when there's food that's comparable to shark fin in texture and taste and that is not harvested in such a cruel way," he explains.
Years after he made a conscious effort to stop eating shark fin, Toof met Tre Packard and decided to get involved in PangeaSeed's mission to address through art and design—ARTIVISM—one of the biggest threats facing the health of the world's oceans—the rapid mass depletion of sharks. "People think that the ocean is inexhaustible and too large to damage, but it has limits and we are abusing those limits at break-neck speed," says Packard. "The United Nations now estimates that global fish stocks will be in full collapse by the year 2048 if we don't change current destructive fishing and consumption habits. Even more frightening is that most sharks species could be extinct in the next 10 to 20 years."
"Using creative means to raise awareness for the plight of sharks challenges the common representation of the animal, as demonized man-eaters and ruthless killers, and provides an incredible platform for open dialogue with the general public," adds Packard. "It's stunning how supportive artists around the world are and how diversely they express themselves through their artwork to give sharks and oceans the voice they desperately need. In my opinion, art and design are some of the most inspirational ways to promote more sustainable lifestyles." Shark Love Inc., an exhibition set at the Box Jelly, was part of the Pow Wow 2013 programming and showcased the work of over 40 contemporary artists who care about the cause.
Along with other participating artists, Toof was also invited to meet his spirit animal during a cage dive in Haleiwa organized in collaboration with Hawaiian Shark Encounters, a unique opportunity to see sharks in their environment in the pristine waters off the North Shore.
"The dive was incredible! Traveling takes you out of your world, so imagine when you go underwater and you see the life that's happening under there," says Toof. "That completely takes you out of your world because it's a completely different kingdom, and it exists and it's thriving and it's going and it's moving and it's constant. There's definitely a conversation going on and I feel like those sharks were talking. It was really that kind of connection so it was extremely beautiful, something I've never experienced."
That is PangeaSeed's goal—to have people connect with the ocean and understand it better so that they can move on to making better, enlightened choices. "Overfishing, destructive fishing practices, pollution, acidification and coastal development are some of the major issues threatening the ocean—it's our daily consumption habits that will decide the fate of our blue planet," says Packard.
The organization's latest shark-saving effort titled "Sametan—Don't Tread on Me" is a collaboration with Tokyo-based vinyl toy designer Cometdebris (Koji Harmon). On 29-30 March 2013, they will host a unique art exhibition at the Spoke Art Gallery in San Francisco, featuring 30 custom Sametan vinyl figures designed by 30 global artists including Frank Kozik, Buff Monster, Jenn Porreca and many more.
In addition to the art exhibition, PangeaSeed will host an exclusive screening of Rob Stewart's (Sharkwater) latest award-winning documentary, "Revolution". The "Ocean Love Film Festival" will take place at Spoke Art Gallery, 30 March 2013 from seven to nine pm.
Images by Laura Austin and PangeaSeed.