“The Best Surfers in the World”: The Art of Christian Riese Lassen

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Mystic Orcas © Christian Riese Lassen

Previous posts have referenced the typical representations of dolphins in New Age art, but today we’re going to delve into the ouvre of one specific artist whose paintings are some of the most influential depictions of dolphins and whales ever created. You may not know his name, but you’ve probably seen his art. Born in California and raised in Lahaina on Maui, “the art capital of the Pacific Rim”, Christian Riese Lassen combines his two passions of painting and surfing to create art that expresses his deep connection to the ocean. His signature hyper-realistic rendering of marine life paired with highly saturated dreamlike colours have become one of the defining motifs of New Age poster art. But is Christian himself a New Age artist? In this post, we’ll explore themes in the cetacean art of one of the world’s most famous marine artists.

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Lumaluma the Whale Giant

Tens of thousands of years ago in Australia, the ancient ways of life were taught to humans in the Dreaming. Snakes wriggled up from underground and shaped the earth, and ancestral spirits came down from the sky or across the sea. These ancestors established the customs that would forever bind their descendants to them and govern their relationship with the world around them. One of these ancestors was a giant whale named Lumaluma who came to the Gunwinggu people of Arnhem Land in the guise of a ferocious giant. Swimming across from Indonesia, he landed at Cape Stewart, where the Gunwinggu greeted him with trepidation.

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Aboriginal children at Cape Stewart, where the giant whale Lumaluma landed © Amy Toensing, National Geographic

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Whale Tooth Necklaces and Moana

The great Polynesian explorers told far too many tales of whales to fit into a single post, and I hope to return to their stories throughout the course of this blog. Today I’d like to focus on one aspect of the Māori relationship with whales – their association with royalty.

Many of you may have seen the wonderful Disney film Moana, which tells the story of a young Polynesian woman who is torn between her duties as the future village chief and her calling to explore the ocean with the same sense of adventure that made her ancestors great navigators. Although whales do not feature in the film aside from a playful dolphin cameo, their teeth play a subtle but important role in the unspoken worldbuilding of Moana.

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Moana and the demigod Maui in Disney’s Moana

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