Art Exhibition: Louis Masai, Missing at Crypt Gallery, Euston

Louis Masai White Rhino sub saharan africa

Louis Masai White Rhino sub saharan africa - Credit: Archant

Mural artist and sculptor Louis Masai explains his mission to raise awareness of animals facing extinction

louis masai Red Panda Shanghai

louis masai Red Panda Shanghai - Credit: Archant

From his studio in the middle of south London woodland, Louis Masai can observe the realm of nature that informs his artwork and its strong ecological message.

“It’s an amazing space,” says the artist, whose graffiti style murals of endangered animals can be found on walls from New York to Shanghai and Tower Hamlets.

“I am surrounded by full blown nature where I can create, that’s what drew me here”.

For his latest solo show, Massai is taking his campaigning artworks to The Crypt Gallery beneath St Pancras Parish Church in the heart of urban London.

louis masai Red Panda Shanghai

louis masai Red Panda Shanghai - Credit: Archant

Missing features an animatronic African penguin and 18 paintings, many featuring his hero bee, stitching up patchwork toy animals at risk of extinction.

He’s been called an activist, but finds the label unhelpful, even while recognising the power of the visual image to influence opinion.

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“People call me an activist but I don’t know how effective that is,” he says.

“The reason why I paint is because it’s a powerful opportunity to identify with a vast majority of the general public. But words like activist put people off and I want to reach as many people as possible.”

louis masai Red Panda Shanghai

louis masai Red Panda Shanghai - Credit: Archant

Masai is delighted this “really cool and beautiful space” will host work that is “a platform to discuss the 6th mass extinction”.

“We are heading for a biodiversity collapse induced by three factors; climate change, hunting and invasion species,” he says.

“The issue of species in transition carries across the plant and animal kingdom. “When we acquire a tree from Canada it arrives with species inside the tree. They no longer have their predators to keep them in check and the oak trees suffer. At the moment there is an invasive caterpillar killing our trees.”

Masai started painting bees because he felt it was harder to engage with the public who would never see a penguin in the wild.

“But everybody has seen a bee, has tasted the product of a bee and can begin to understand that if bees disappear, human species will collapse as well as all the other species. The idea was to engage the viewer and get people on board then start discussing the other species.”

His penguin image of a patchwork quilt soft toy has been turned into a 3D sculpture with robotics that allow her to move.

“She sits on top of an oil drum because the South African coastline suffers from oil spills which is why the African penguin is endangered.”

There’s also a bronze casting of his bee in resin which aims to start a discussion around pesticides.

Whether the art or the message comes first is a moot point for Masai, who streams a monthly podcast discussing environmental issues with experts in their field.

“For me everything is organic,” he says.

“To have the ability to be creative is a gift. Through my abilities, I create works of art that educate. As an artist you identify with something that calls to your thought processes. Your ideas are just part of the jigsaw, you cannot separate one from the other or you would have to erase my memory - I’m switched on now, I can’t be turned off now.”

He adds: “I always say that once you have learned something you cannot unlearn it. When you learn how many species are endangered, you think, Why doesn’t anyone else care? Is it because they don’t know? Then there’s a mission to open up the possibility for conversation.

“I am not saying a painting is going to stop that species from being on the point of extinction, but it is the opportunity to have a discussion that I have had with myself with an audience.”

Missing runs at The Crypt Gallery, St Pancras Church, Euston Road from May 25-May 27. Prints and limited edition T-shirts will be on sale.

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