David LaChapelle and eco-activist Paul Watson photographed at Galerie Daniel Templon in Paris. Portrait Stéphane Gallois.
Julian Schnabel photographed at the Palazzo Chupi with Cyrill Gutsch's founder of Parley for the Oceans. Portrait Van Sarki.
But what could there be in common between venerable artist Julian Schnabel, controversial “eco-pirate” and former Greenpeace member Paul Watson, and iconic pop photographer David LaChapelle? “The ocean!”, they all reply in chorus, having been brought together by businessman Cyrill Gutsch, founder of the organization Parley for the Oceans. “Protecting the oceans goes far beyond defending marine wildlife,” explains Schnabel. “Defending the oceans is about defending humanity.” The well-known artist and director was one of the very first to support Parley, not only by designing its emblem, of course, but also by hosting its first meeting at his New York property, Palazzo Chupi. According to Parley, all the world’s coral will have disappeared by 2025, while commercial fishing will have collapsed as of 2048, with disastrous consequences for biodiversity. Faced with these challenges, Parley has chosen to fight through the media. But they’re also proposing more concrete solutions, such as the partnership set up between Pharrell Williams and G-Star Raw to recycle waste plastic from the oceans into a clothing collection. And that’s just for starters …
Numéro: Do artists have a moral duty to fight for the defence of the planet?
Julian Schnabel: The truth is that you can only ask one thing of an artist: to create. For me, defending a cause, in this case the oceans, remains something personal that’s quite distinct from my work as an artist. Andy Warhol was very generous, but that’s not what made his work interesting. Artists work in a parallel world, which sometimes explains their lack of interest in what’s going on around them. Take Matisse, for example: while Europe was going up in smoke he painted female nudes. Some might find that shocking, but let’s face it he wasn’t paid to comment on current affairs.
David LaChapelle: An artist’s function isn’t only to reflect on current debates in society. But we have the power to throw light on the world’s darker areas, it’s our responsibility. Today’s artistic production responds more to market expectations than to society’s challenges. As such, art is a reflection of our world, which is more interested in profit than ideas. Many artists are so obsessed by the price of their works at auction that they don’t think about what art should be today.
What does the future hold for us?
Paul Watson: The world in 2114 will look like it did in 1814, I’m sure of it. A planet where we travel by horse and sail… And I think that’s a good thing, because we simply don’t have the resources to carry on living like we do today. Take airplanes: they’re not just a means of transport but floating cities. As I speak, 3 million people are up in the air. There’s a whole culture developing in the air right now. Is this really sensible? Is it necessary?
David LaChapelle: The world has seen “progresses” that we could have done without. Firms are constantly creating new needs without thinking of the consequences. When I was a child, there weren’t any plastic water bottles. And then they appeared. We’ve started paying for water, or rather for the plastic that contains it. And today we’re paying again, to get rid of this plastic which is polluting our beaches.
Julian Schnabel: It’s become essential to distinguish between the necessary and the superfluous in our needs and lifestyles.
Do you think the world is ready to sacrifice some of its comfort?
Paul Watson: But we don’t have any choice! Either we make radical decisions, or the planet will make them for us. I’m optimistic, since we don’t even need for a majority of the population to support these changes. The great human revolutions – for example the American Revolution or the French Revolution – never required the involvement of more than 7% of the total population.
And are you ready to break the law to achieve this revolution?
Paul Watson: Recently we stopped some illegal fishing and saved 800 tuna. What we did was legitimate, even if some consider it illegal. The company in question has taken us to court in the U.K., and my boat has been impounded. Even when we win a case, their legions of lawyers make appeal after appeal in the hope of ruining us financially. Because I’ve carried out this type of action, I’m currently on a blacklist of the most dangerous people in the world, as if it were as bad as having participated in a genocide!
Julian Schnabel: It was the Japanese government’s attempt to extradite you from Germany that opened my eyes to your combat. I couldn’t understand how a man who fights to save innocent animals could be considered on the same footing as a war criminal…
Paul Watson: Sea Shepherd, my organization, is combative but non violent. Weapons are not the solution. But cameras can help us. If we can make public the reality of what’s happening in the world, then we’ll change the course of things. We’ll save lives. Do people know that every ten days a boat carrying over 100 containers travels from China to the U.S. just for Walmart? Or that part of the fishing industry is working towards the extinction of certain species in order to push up prices? That they’re willingly exterminating certain fish so as to be the only ones with stocks of them held in giant freezer warehouses? We’re talking about millions of dollars here…