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Squamish artist combines art and ocean conservation

Mathias Horne recently returned from New York, where his The Hidden Natural Wonders of the World paintings were displayed at the United Nations headquarters during the Global Ocean Treaty negotiations.

It is a project that demonstrates how art and environmental advocacy can go hand-in-hand. 

In fact, they can empower and compliment each other. 

Squamish artist Mathias Horne recently returned from a 12-day trip to New York, where his The Hidden Natural Wonders of the World paintings were displayed at the United Nations headquarters during the Global Ocean Treaty negotiations

Horne says that the seven paintings each depict an ambassador species for a potential High Seas protected area that could only be established under an ambitious and robust treaty. 

For example, the species dumbo octopus needs to be protected in the south Tasman Sea and Lord Howe Rise areas of the ocean near New Zealand. 

Horne had an exhibition at the delegates’ entrance of the United Nations building to engage with government officials. 

Prints were also handed out to delegates to urge them to protect these unique sites in the high seas. 

The basic goal of the organizations is effective ocean protection. 

Horne said he got involved in the project thanks to another Quest University alumnus who was involved with Oceans North

"Oceans North and the High Seas Alliance are the two ocean organizations that I've partnered with for this campaign," Horne explained. "They brought me on board as an artist as a way to kind of create more engagement around the campaign with visuals, representing the different [potential] marine protected areas."

Horne's role was to meet with people, share his artwork and why he cares so much about the ocean. 

 Horne said a lot of thought and research went into each art piece to try to depict the species realistically and create emotion around each creature.  

He spent a year creating the works. 

"For each piece, we sought out different photographers and deep-sea scientists to help drive the narrative of each painting," Horne said, adding that for the dumbo octopus, he talked to a scientist for about two hours to understand how to depict it best. 

Other species he painted include the smooth lantern shark, the Laysan albatross, leatherback sea turtle and the pygmy blue whale. 

"It definitely challenged me creatively," Horne said. "And there's a lot of problem-solving. But I think the beautiful thing about this campaign is that each artwork was a gateway to a lot of scientific research that, I think, kind of gets pushed to the side or doesn't get as much public attention as it should; that was really cool to be almost creating these cover photos or artworks, to these really important research projects that are going on in the background."

Horne recalled that with the smooth lantern shark, the marine animal is often so deep that there isn't a lot of imagery he could work from. 

"I mean, that really challenged me creatively, but it was just kind of a beautiful story about how our work could really create engagement. And also start these conversations that really are crucial to protecting our different marine environments."

It was a surreal and impactful trip for Horne, who is still working on the campaign and creating more pieces. 

"Just having my artwork mean so much to people — and in tandem with such an important campaign, I think it's really rewarding," he said. "It was one of those reflective moments where I was sitting there thinking how my work [is] kind of growing beyond myself and really impacting something important. So that's what I really find inspiring."

Growing up in Squamish, Horne said caring for the ocean is natural for him. 

"Growing up here, I was always inspired by the ocean. And it's something that plays such a vital role in our climate here. And we have such a vast example of biodiversity that you can see here. So I think that's inspiration," he said. 

The talks at the UN in New York ended without the signing of a treaty. It is hoped talks will resume next year.

This was the fifth round of talks. 

"There's a lot to do within the high seas," Horne said of his future plans. "And now I'm excited to keep working with the High Seas Alliance and Oceans North and see where I can be more of an asset within the campaign," he said. 

Find out more about the High Seas Alliance and Oceans North and their campaigns on their websites. 

Follow Horne on Facebook at Mathias Horne Art and at his website, mathiashorne.com.

Video courtesy Mathias Horne