An artistic revival (12/11) - The Beach Reporter: Beach Cities

An artistic revival (12/11)

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Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2003 12:00 am

If you've ever visited Laguna Beach, then you know the tiny coastal town has become a bustling hub for artists since its incorporation during the early 1900s.

In 1903, Norman St. Claire, the city's first significant artist, migrated down to the city from San Francisco to paint its breathtaking landscape. Some of his friends, who admired his inspiration, followed in his footsteps since the prospect of living in a place of year-round warm weather seemed too good to be true.

In 1918, the artist Edgar Payne opened a gallery and formed the Laguna Beach Art Association, now the Laguna Art Museum, and by the 1920s an estimated 300 people, half of whom were artists, relocated there.

In 1932, the city became home to the first Festival of Arts and 10 years later the event became what is now known as the famed Pageant of the Masters.

Like Laguna Beach, Hermosa Beach celebrates its own unique artistic history. It was once a Mecca for jazz musicians like Chet Baker who performed at the Lighthouse Caf in the 1950s. It was also a hot spot in the 1960s for beatnik writers like Charles Bukowski and Thomas Pynchon, the former who frequented an old coffee shop on Pier Avenue called Insomniac and read his work aloud. An art gallery and bookstore of sorts sat next door to Insomniac which sold rare poetry and world religion texts, along with original paintings, obscure records, flowers, incense and art supplies.

The street, Pier Avenue, became a venue in and of itself with a sidewalk espresso bar, a caricature artist, and a man who strapped a typewriter to his chest and drafted up personality sketches for 50 cents.

Unlike Laguna Beach, Hermosa Beach never experienced a burgeoning art scene that exploded into a cultural fixture of present times. However, some art enthusiasts and artists are trying to change that with the recent opening of several art galleries in town.

One gallery in particular is the Ken Klade Gallery, located at 437 Pier Ave., which is now showing the work of four different artists, all of whom possess diverse artistic styles and flare.

A native of Iowa, Steven Johnson creates ceramic vases and vessels that are fired at 1,800 degrees and then deliberately broken with a wooden mallet. He then paints the broken shards with acrylics, enamels and other materials and puts the broken pieces back together again with super glue.

"Breaking each pot changes the perception that viewers have when first seeing my ceramics," said Johnson. "After realizing that what appeared as surface design are actually cracks can startle or surprise, then transform casual observations. Is it still a pot or an abnormal pot? A mistake or a conscious act of destruction? The responses are always interesting, as is the process. The break patterns can never be duplicated and the painting gestures always seem to change, thus satisfying my creative urges and curiosity."

Born in 1950, Johnson earned a bachelor's degree in art from the University of Northern Iowa in 1973. He established his ceramic studio in Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1974 and began his ceramic reconstruction in 1981. Those who own his pieces include professional tennis players Gabriela Sabatini, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Johnson's pieces are on display in several Iowa museums and numerous corporations exhibit his work such as IBM, Iowa Public Television and the Chrysler/Plymouth company.

Another featured artist, Mary Snyder Behrens, also resides in Iowa. She was born in 1957 and grew up in Milwaukee, Wis. Behrens graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee with a bachelor's degree in fine arts.

"My early training was primarily in painting and drawing, but over the years I have introduced into my work a myriad of methods and materials that are more commonly associated with collage," said Behrens. "For example, I have used articles of clothing and other fabric remnants for texture and pattern, as well as sometimes to imply the figure is not present."

Since the early 1980s, Behrens has received numerous awards from both the Ohio Arts Council and the Iowa Arts Council. She has also shown her work in scores of group exhibitions (jury and invitational), galleries and museums across the country, England, Canada and Japan. She moved to Iowa in 1990 with her husband, Roy. A public collection of Behrens' work is at the Hearst Center of the Arts in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

"The surfaces of my work are stitched, painted, scratched, sanded, gouged and burned," added Behrens. "Then, carefully selected found objects are introduced, ranging from buttons to electrical cord to machine parts to hymnal pages. They are sewn into and onto the canvas, or wired or woven or fastened with nuts, bolts, stapled or glued. Rusty wire, pencil lines, a tear in the canvas, a splatter of paint, the ring from a cup of spilled coffee, a match left to burn or a shard of splintered glass - what might otherwise be dismissed or discarded, I incorporate."

Karen Pike is a painter who enjoys producing oil portraits like wine bottles and palm trees, and combines a vivid array of rich colors.

"Visits to the wine country of Northern California have inspired my numerous paintings of grapes, wine and celebration," said Pike.

In 1992, Los Angeles County High School for the Arts accepted Pike into its program and from there, she earned a scholarship to the University of Arizona where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. While living in Tucson, Pike became a free-lance artist and designed several murals including one for the Tucson Children's Museum. Pike, who now lives in Los Angeles, also spent two years living in Hawaii, which served as another form of inspiration.

"I was really inspired by its natural beauty - the crystal blue and green waters and the tall swaying coconut trees," she said.

Raised in New Jersey, Jennifer Hellman now lives in Hermosa Beach after moving to the West Coast from New York City. She studied at the North Carolina School of Arts and graduated from Bennington College in Vermont with a bachelor's degree in arts. Hellman also earned a master's degree in sports medicine from California State University in Long Beach. Museums across the country have shown Hellman's work with solo shows in New York City at the Jacob Javits Center, the Dean Street Caf and Studio 4 West Gallery.

Hellman works in the medium of photography and creates an abstract collage based from one photo.

"I think I offer a brand new concept with my custom photomosaics," said Hellman. "Beginning with a single photograph like a Spanish cathedral, kelp on the beach or perhaps just a torn cardboard box, I extend from it until the building collage develops a life of its own. At first glance, my work appears abstract. You may mistake it for a painting or a computer-generated print, but it is neither. You may ask, 'What is it?' I leave that for you to discover."

Originally from Wisconsin, Ken Klade, owner of the gallery and an artist in his own right, moved to Hermosa Beach with the dream of eventually opening a gallery. He operated and owned his own gallery back home in Milwaukee. Klade, who has shown his work in galleries and festivals all across the country since the age of 18, acquired a following through his usually sold-out gallery shows. He has sold his art to many including a few Green Bay Packers and the music artist Prince.

After high school, Klade attended three different universities to study art, including Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin in Whitewater. During the 1980s, Klade's biggest influences were Andy Warhol and Patrick Nagel, but like virtually all artists, as he grew older, he began developing his own style and technique through experimentation.

"I choose to value the poetic, playful and emotional aspect of my art," he said. "I don't have any hidden messages or deep-rooted inner turmoil expressed in my paintings. I choose to create rhythm and harmony with my colors, deep textures and composition. My diverse style of work ranges from 1920 Art Deco, pop art to industrial abstract painting. My diversity is created by pushing myself to explore new and challenging techniques in my work, and because I get bored with a single style."

Klade is now in the process of organizing an art walk in Hermosa Beach in March. He has received positive feedback from the city and recently approached other art galleries in town like Gallery C to coordinate a walk along Pier Avenue on either the first Friday or Saturday of each month.

"I think it could be a real nice event where residents can get out and enjoy Hermosa Beach," added Klade. "I think we have a lot of potential with Pier Avenue and with the studios, galleries and restaurants in town. I think Hermosa would love it."

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