It’s an eight-story image of sea life — humpback whales, to be specific — painted on the back of a Dallas parking garage. In 1999, the artist donated it to the city. So why has it been gone for so long?
Wyland was sitting at his home in the Florida Keys on a recent morning when he got the news. Given that he’s in quarantine, like everyone else in the world, the last thing he figured on getting was a breaking-news blast out of Dallas. A welcome news blast.
Now 63, Wyland is an artist and conservationist who got permission from a court to use only his last name. In 1999, he came to Dallas to paint a giant mural on the back of a downtown building. His creation — 164 feet long and eight stories high — depicts six life-size humpback whales swimming near a coral reef.
It covers the entire southwestern facade of the building at 505 N. Akard St., fronting a surface parking lot along North Field Street that, for the time being, sits mostly empty. A smaller portion of the mural also wraps around the San Jacinto Street side of the building, a parking garage with vacant commercial spaces at its street level.
Wyland says no one paid a penny for it — through his foundation, he donated his time and money as a charitable gift to the people of Dallas. Plano-based J.C. Penney chipped in too, donating everything from buckets of paint to lodging for Wyland and his team. The finished product became Whaling Wall 82, one of 101 Whaling Walls he created all over the world between 1981 and 2019.
“I remember it well,” he says about the day of its unveiling in 1999, when former Dallas Cowboys player Herschel Walker showed up to do the ribbon-cutting. “We had so many people. It was just tremendous. There was nothing like it. It was the biggest piece of public art in the city.”
Sounds like a good-news story in every way, until the humpback whales Wyland painted became as endangered as the massive marine mammals memorialized by the mural once were. We don’t know the exact date, but out of nowhere one day, Wyland’s creation disappeared. Poof, it was gone, covered up by outdoor advertising, which remained in place until just this month. Wyland estimates that ads began to conceal his creation “about five years ago, and when I heard about it, it made me sick.”
So, the last thing he expected was a happy ending.
“Here’s what happened,” he says from his oceanic home. “The coronavirus got to it. This may be one of the only good things that came out of this coronavirus is that it’s dried up outdoor advertising.”
He appears to be right.