Artist, conservationist, explorer, researcher and cinematographer Guy Harvey has applied his unique talents to a multitude of disciplines, all with considerable international success. He was recently honored by Norwegian Cruise Lines when his artwork was chosen to adorn the hull of the line’s latest super cruise ship. Harvey speaks with the Journal about the passions that motivate him to undertake such a broad spectrum of work at such a high level.
With his gallery, art studio and restaurant located in the heart of George Town, Guy Harvey is well known in the Cayman Islands for his often dramatic artwork that features the marine life that entrances him.
Though Harvey is based in Cayman now, he began his artistic career back in the mid-’80s in Jamaica, his homeland, following years of study to become a marine biologist.
“I realized it made more money, selling art.” he says, and his success was almost immediate.
“In 1985 I did four art shows in that first year, two in Jamaica, one in the Bahamas and one in Florida, and it was like ‘Wow! This really works!’ It took about three years to get organized from when I left my full-time employment to paint full time,” he says.
Harvey says in those days he didn’t really have a game plan as such.
“Most importantly, I moved into a licensing situation in 1986 that not only formalized me as a full-time artist, but the advantage of licensing is also that you can get the artwork to work for you while you are painting.”
Today Harvey is lauded as among the world’s best marine wildlife artists, and his artwork is recognized all over, with such examples as floor-to-ceiling murals at the Fort Lauderdale airport and at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, as well as his distinctive game fish T-shirt designs.
While Guy Harvey originals sell for thousands of dollars, reproductions of his art are offered as limited edition prints and can be found on a wide variety of clothing and gift items.
Harvey has been asked to design the signature artwork for the hull of Norwegian Cruise Line’s largest ship to date, Norwegian Escape, scheduled to debut in October 2015. The hull artwork is Harvey’s largest ever canvas, a 1,065-foot-long space that will feature undersea scenes showcasing game fish, turtles and stingrays.
Art is the key
Artwork has been central to Harvey’s success as a marine conservationist and educator.
“The artwork has become the building block of the brand,” he says. “Keeping it fresh and new is very important for the for-profit side and as long as you have a successful business, then you can do the philanthropy.”
The philanthropy is broad and covers research, conservation and education.
His current projects include a tracking study on Mako sharks – one of the ultimate ocean predators – through his Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which funds scientific research aimed at the the conservation of marine wildlife, primarily large, pelagic fish such as sharks, billfish and tuna.
Studies of this nature are vital to the ultimate well-being of the animals, Harvey says.
“The focus is on large pelagic animals, so the tunas, the sharks, the billfish, because they are relatively poorly studied because they are inaccessible,” he says. “I love dealing with them because they are big, powerful, strong predators. They are just exciting animals to deal with.”
However, through commercial over-exploitation, all of these species have been impacted severely in the past 30 to 40 years due to increasing demand.
“Tunas and sharks in particular have had a really bad time due to their inability to accommodate over-exploitation,” Harvey says. “Different marine animals have different strategies. Some can accommodate quite high level of extraction. Sharks cannot because they are long lived and slow growing. Any species with those characteristics will take a long time to bounce back.”
In tracking the Mako sharks, Harvey says the technology being used enables researchers to obtain the animals’ real-time locations. He is also embarking on another project, helping to save the Oceanic whitetip shark, which used to be the most abundant large animal on the planet. Again, due to over-fishing for their large fins, the population is now down to one percent of previous highs.
The data that the foundation collects is being used to develop legislation protecting such animals.
Some countries, such as the Cayman Islands – which recently enacted the National Conservation Law (2013) – have passed laws to protect sharks. Harvey says his foundation helped to push the legislation and provided the data to help guide policymakers.
“We helped in the Bahamas, where they passed legislation in 2011 protecting sharks from commercial exploitation,” he points out. The Bahamas were particularly keen to see the law changed because they have an abundant shark ecotourism industry, much like stingray city here in Cayman, he explains.
Data on the life history of the animals helps immensely, he says.
“You can’t manage anything unless you know how it’s organized,” Harvey states.
The foundation also helps to protect the animals through its educational programs. A case in point is the deal signed with Norwegian Cruise Lines, which includes a full conservation education program available to guests on board the ship, in the form of documentaries shown on board as well as literature available offering the opportunity to take part in marine education.
Focus on stingrays
Stingrays are also a species of concern for the foundation, which has studied them annually since 2002. Currently there is just under a 50 percent drop in population since the study began. Harvey has just completed a further study of Cayman’s stingrays, with two further studies to be completed later in the year.
“At the end of this year we will have a much better handle on their reproductive strategy and the season, if there is one. Typically in the wild, animals not supplemented by humans will have a fairly defined breeding system. Wild animals mate when food is abundant. The benefits of long-term study are that you can study these undulations.”
Harvey ends by offering a word of advice to Cayman’s artists who look to emulate the success he has achieved.
“The advent of social media in the last 10 years has really helped us to reach so many more people. You start by having shows at huge expense. We are finished with that now. Web sales now out sell everything else.
“One piece of advice for artists,” he says, “is to get a decent website going and be interactive on Facebook and Twitter. We did not have that 25 years ago and it really makes a big difference.”