To protect and raise awareness of endangered sea turtle species and conserve their marine ecosystems, JW Marriott Phuket opened the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation (MKMTF) on-site almost 17 years ago.
Just last week, the foundation welcomed Ricky, a hawksbill turtle with a damaged shell, and Ya-whan, an olive ridley turtle with a missing flipper. Both were found stranded in the sand, tangled in fishing nets. They join long-standing residents Tommy, who was born blind, and Kaew, whose internal GPS isn’t quite working as it should. Ricky and Ya-whan will be released back into the ocean during an annual ceremony later this year; other turtles are unable to be rehabilitated and will be taken care of at the facility permanently.
Ricky and Ya-whan’s arrival was a colourful affair as it coincided with a visit from Patrick Redl Wehrli – known as REDL – a Zurich-based graphic designer, illustrator and graffiti artist who flew to the resort to spray a marine mural for the foundation.
The world-renowned artist has been active since the rise of hip hop and graffiti culture in Europe in the 1980s.
“At the beginning, there were no graffiti magazines and no internet. If you wanted to know how they painted in Paris, you had to go to Paris and meet people there, often in neighbourhoods you didn’t want to go. If you had the phone number of a graffiti artist, you were the boss. I went to New York once to find an artist in the South Bronx. All I had was his phone number.”
REDL would find himself forgetting to eat for days on these trips, fuelled solely by the adrenaline of the cross-continent chase. Creative horizons expanded, he would return to Switzerland each time with new skill sets in tow. He eventually became one of the main exponents of this new form of creative expression in Switzerland in the ’90s.
REDL’s dynamic 3D urban art adorns walls in Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Egypt, Brazil and Hong Kong. He splits his work into three themes, the first being one of the cornerstones of graffiti: lettering.
“With 26 letters, you can say anything in the world. You can say ‘love’, you can say ‘hate’. For me, an ‘A’ is not just an ‘A’, it’s three lines and there are so many possibilities to change its dynamics.”
The second is detailed, illustrative depictions of humans, often his own children.
“When I paint human beings recently, I’ve found it’s usually kids. Largely because I’m a dad of two girls now, but also in the sense that they represent the future. I painted one of my daughters standing in a paper boat on a 24 x 12 metre wall (right). It shows how fragile the future is and how we have to care about it for them and create something peaceful.”
Thirdly, and aptly for the MKMTF, animals.
“I like to add a surrealistic touch and make small things big, like bees and dragonflies. We now know these animals are very important and I want to show the beauty of their architecture. I want to give them a big stage.”
Although you’re more likely to come across facades of insects and land mammals, like lions and camels, in his portfolio, he appreciates the special beauty of the underwater world and is grateful for the opportunity to paint part of it.
“It fascinates humans, including me, because it’s this other world.”
REDL’s work at the MKMTF is a dynamic, vibrant seascape of elkhorn corals, butterfly fish and larger-than-life sea turtles. It took eight hours of preparation – sourcing images, combining them, scouring Bangkok for the correct paint – and 16 hours of painting. Graffiti art takes a great deal more work and is far more physically demanding than many of us might imagine, especially under a mask in the punishing Phuket heat.
However, he’s happy to suffer both for his art and in the name of such a good cause.
Asked how graffiti is viewed around the world, REDL replies, “The funny thing is, in Switzerland, if I’m painting with a roller or brush, people see me as an artist. As soon as I have a spray can in my hand, people have perceptions of painting in the night illegally.”
However, he thanks and respects Banksy for how his simple yet powerful works have shifted the public perception of urban art over the years, allowing him to forge an international career in a creative industry he loves.
The MKMTF is open on weekdays from 9am to 3pm.
Website – www.maikhaomarineturtlefoundation.org
REDL’s other works can be found at www.redl.ch. He is also available for commissions and can be contacted at email@example.com