by Bill Thomas
The newest entry in San Clemente's budding art world is the WestEdge Gallery. Opening in June, 2004, over 200 paintings - primarily oils, watercolors, and acrylics - and randomly scattered sculpture pieces represent the work of thirteen artists banding together to form their own art colony - a place to create, show their works and interact with one another. There are seven small studios (9'x9'), two of them shared, in which the artists work; others exhibit only. All have great admiration for the talent of the accomplished Kirk Saber who brought them together. Who are the merry members of this unique band of art entrepreneurs and what makes them tick? What chances for success does the newest new art gallery in town have?
Irene Licini and her husband recently retired from running their Sizzler restaurant; Irene, with children raised, began painting in earnest six years ago. To her, WestEdge was a real find.
"When I walked in, I fell in love with the atmosphere and the artists. The place was appealing and fun-filled. It wasn't a pretentious gallery where people would be afraid to go in because it's so informal. It's a super gallery; everybody's real friendly. I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of it."
Irene sold one of her paintings shortly after she hung it up. "It was called "A Kelp Forest," an underwater abstract," Irene noted. "I had never attempted an abstract before. The other artists have made me stretch myself. I look at their art, talk with them. I'm surrounded by their inspiration. It's easier to paint here than at home. There's a vibration, which makes me feel very creative. Sometimes art is such an expression you don't understand what comes out of you onto the canvas. I want to see how far I can stretch. I want to be original and grow in my own style. Whether you give a painting away or sell it or hang it for yourself, it's the discoveries about yourself when you do art that give you personal satisfaction. Many of the ones you really like stay in your own house, like children who don't want to leave home yet."
Dan Tangeman, a man of all seasons, who has traveled worldwide in his admiration of the art world, is currently involved in theatre, contracting, swimming pool design and scenic design, as well as painting. In combining realism with the abstract, Dan has also been creating wood sculptures of ducks, which he carves, oils, and adds feathers to. Previously, at various times, he's been a helicopter mechanic, a musician, a road racer, a disc jockey, a limousine driver, an actor, a doorman, a model, a cab driver, a lumber broker, a salesman for Panasonic, and he served in the U.S. Navy. He also received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Santa
Barbara, in dramatic directing. Recently, he taught special education children at Shorecliffs.
"Several months ago," recalled Dan, " I saw an article in the paper about WestEdge. I met Kirk and as soon as I walked in the front door, I felt energy and a comforting vibe from the group of
artists. Kirk's art is something I wanted to be a part of. I'd been painting in my garage and never got a drop on me; I'd been holding things in... I met Steve Adam and saw his work. I said to myself, this guy is good. This is great. I'm glad the guy is here ... I had felt stuffed down by my painting. I was cheap on paint and frugal in other ways. I felt constrained, and it was frustrating for me. One day, I stopped using a brush, grabbed a tube of paint and started sloshing it on the
canvas. There was paint all over me. There was this huge release - a real transition."
Christina Beaman, who first located the building and helped Kirk build the studio cubicles, is a partner who jumped right in with elbow grease. She was primarily a photographer but has been influenced by Kirk and others to begin painting. Being around the artists moved her from acrylics to oil painting and from representational to abstract work in an extremely short time. "I'm very inspired and excited," she says.
Marie Pierre Philippe-Lohezic, who prefers "Marie Pierre" with her charming French accent, grew up and attended school in a town near Paris. She worked in computer industrial design - "what they put into a computer" – and traveled with her husband, a designer of microelectronics, and three children, to several Asian countries, most recently, to Laguna Hills. She studied painting in France, Singapore and at Saddleback College, beginning painting seriously five years ago.
"I paint in different styles, but most people place me in the cubist style, with a tendency to become more abstract," she related.
Marie Pierre works in various media, including watercolor, pastel, oil, acrylic, stone, clay, and bronze; her work expresses considerable movement. "I think that my best expression will be in sculpture,” she remarked.
Most of her works to date are with a collector in France, and with friends and family. An acquaintance that knew someone in San Clemente's newest art colony, told Marie about WestEdge.
"I talked to Kirk and decided to join. I was not spending enough time painting. This gave me the opportunity to share different techniques, to work in different mediums and to learn from everyone else," she added.
Working in oils with occasional watercolors is Vickie Magger DeSilva who believes her work "...captures the gentleness of life and perhaps the fun side of living... painting people to catch their emotions and moods."
An artist through experience rather than academics, Vickie has been teaching oil painting classes in the Adult Education Division of the Capistrano Unified School District for 14 years. She has won awards at the Orange County Fair, and from the San Clemente and Laguna Hills Art Associations. She also paints patrons of the Café Tutu Tango in Orange as they dine. Recently, she has become a certified professional counselor for families whose offspring may be at risk for drug or alcohol abuse. Her favorite painting is called Orangatini - an orangutan in a martini glass, of which she has sold thirty prints.
Sue Wilcox specializes in oils, watercolors, acrylic, jewelry, and beach objects. She began as an artist during college in Minnesota where she won several national awards with her oil paintings. After marriage, her family, adding three children in the process, moved across the United States several times. By the time they moved to San Clemente in 1987, she and her husband had built a successful cable TV business. Unfortunately, her husband was unexpectedly taken from her, and she maintained the family as a single mother. In 1990, she returned to art, taking every art class offered by Saddleback College and, again, winning art show awards. She has traveled widely to such locations as Egypt, India, France, Greece and Norway; she enjoys painting children, places, and faces. Her favorites are a "911-Fire Hydrant" and one of her granddaughters at a drinking fountain in a park. She has even put together a work using twigs gathered from the beach. Learning about the start of an artist' colony at WestEdge, she signed up right away. Her work has been shown at Hosum Bistro in Newport Beach and at the Tustin Senior Center Art Gallery, as well as WestEdge.
"I enjoy this; I feel like I'm really part of an art colony. This is the best thing for me at this time," she admits.
Ruth Yuhas' work has hung at WestEdge since its opening. A member of the San Clemente Art Association, she won six awards from first place to honorable mention. She also exhibits in Laguna Beach's Quaron Gallery. She works primarily in acrylics with colorful abstracts. Her background in art includes numerous workshops and study with artist Robert Burridge. Early on,
she followed her art interests seriously; later, she neglected her art for ten years to devote her time to an occupation in architectural drafting. She re-established her art interests and has been an avid painter for the past three years.
"I'm a fast painter," she admits. I sell about six of my paintings a month. I wish I had more time to both paint and to interrelate with the other artists."
Her commercial art jobs, constructing commercial swimming pools and working part time as a floral assistant, leaves Sarah Schoenkopf little time for her first loves - watercolors and illustrations.
"Painting is my sole means of accurately expressing my emotions," she states. She sees her art as "...free, personal, and overtly feminine."
Besides WestEdge, she exhibits her works at the Black Cat Gallery in San Juan Capistrano. I've always wanted to paint," she admits," but have had no time for classes."
She considers her art style as simple, creating emotion with a minimum of brush strokes. She was greatly influenced by a gift of a book on Mandela, which is a sand script definition for circles often seen in Asian and Native American art. "I'm not a modern art freak, but I love to paint circles and swirls," she admits.
In her small studio, she displays lots of sketches of children, animals and flowers. She confesses she doesn't like to think things out artistically but instinctively. She picks out a dominant feature, darkens and lightens areas and, in no time at all, has a finished piece.
"I do very open 'how I feel' sorts of things," she admits.
Carlsbad-based Nadine Baurin works primarily in oils, leaning toward an expressionistic style, characterized by a dynamic undertone and marked textures - all conveying a "highly tactile surface." Spending her mornings as an interface designer on web-based products for a software company, she also has her own graphic and web design studio. She studied art in Argentina
and France, earning her bachelor's degree in studio art from Illinois' Prinicipia College in Chicago.
Admitting her use of quick, energetic brushstrokes, she admits. " I tend to work with imagery and themes that incorporate vivid cultural connections to my Latin American heritage (Buenos Aires, Tango, Boats, the City)...after applying paint to my canvas I wait and let the images emerge. Like the child who carves images from clouds, I step away from the literal and attempt to paint what I perceive and feel."
Her works have been exhibited at galleries in Illinois, San Diego, Encinitas, and, now WestEdge. An art colleague of Kirk Saber in Encinitas, she wanted to support him in his WestEdge adventure.
A successful tile contractor, floor sealer and coater, Steve Adam is also an experienced artist. Self-taught, he loves to work with acrylics; he paints contemporary abstracts. He also creates with a wide variety of architectural materials such as mosaic, ceramics, natural stone, and
concrete. Working with builders, contracting companies, and homeowners throughout Southern California, Steve has sold over 100 pieces of his artwork informally.
"I'd been thinking of owning my own gallery. When I drove by WestEdge, came in and met Kirk, that was it. At the first Art Walk I sold a piece to a major San Clemente art collector, one I just produced that week."
Steve "hangs out" with WestEdge artists and watches the gallery on occasion. "I just exhibit here. I paint at night in my garage. It gives me more time to relax and explore art...I'm not sure how to describe my painting. It's whatever I feel, no particular subject. I just put a couple
of dabs of paint on the canvas, and then I start going with it. I do big paintings, sometimes reverse painting on glass...two pieces a night depending on how I feel."
He credits much of the inspiration for his work to his Louisiana upbringing, particularly appreciating nature and wildlife. He likes working with his hands with mosaics, waterfalls and sculpture pieces, including woods.
The newest member of the contingent is Trevor Mezak who works with oils and palette knives. His favorite subjects include places he's traveled, mission scenes and people working or playing in their own environments. "There's so much in a face," he says.
Largely self-taught, Trevor has taken courses in graphic design, animation and fine arts. His works have been shown in Los Angeles' Back Street Gallery, in Boulder, Colorado, and other locations.
"I'm a trial and error, 'hands-on' painter," he claims.
Employed in painting murals and texturing walls, Trevor is also part owner of Free Ryde Clothing Company providing designs for T-shirts and other items of wear. Besides his 14-month-old twins, he loves doing oils - "one piece at a time."
Regina Hurley is a widely exhibited painter, sculptor and educator, whose works are included in many exclusive private collections. One of her bronze sculptures will soon be displayed at the Huntington Library and Museum. With academic credentials from CalState, Long Beach, including an MFA, Regina teaches fine arts for Saddleback and Coastline Community Colleges and Concordia University. Her eclectic sculptures include fantasy oceanic figures reflecting great beauty and physical power, one of which she recently donated to Casa Romantica. The representational sculptures she exhibits at Westedge are from her "Links in a Chain" series.
Writes Regina, "Personal experience taught me that putting experiences in perspective softens extremes. Simplifying the human form universalizes the figures, absorbing them into the cycle. Lessening the effect of extremes presents an overview of existence."
The guru himself? Kirk Saber is the Pied Piper who took on all artistic comers, spanning in experience from beginner to very experienced, with different talents working in different media.
"...to have a place to bring artists together so they have one place they not only can show but
can actually create their work and share ideas with other artists,” he says. “Most artists like to paint in an ivory tower. I'm trying to give them an ivory tower that's right in the middle of the village so that they're brave enough to attempt new things. We've already had that happen here. Irene just started painting abstracts and sold one at the first Art Walk, as did Steve. Irene primarily painted horses and equestrian subjects. Now she's full on with abstract stuff and selling those. Dan's beginning to find his voice in painting. I couldn't be happier than seeing our artists
reaching out. We don't just do commercial art here; we try to emphasize the creative side. It's extremely encouraging for arts to be in a commercial setting but to have artists feel comfortable enough to worry about the creating aspect as opposed to the commercial aspect of art - and to venture out there.
“We also have a great landlord, Yank Sefton. He's a huge supporter of the arts and a painter himself. He made it all possible." Kirk continued, " I want our artists to feel safe to explore, to share ideas, and they do. They share recipes that you can't find in art books. 'What did he do?' ' How did she do this?' ' I mixed three parts this and one part that.' 'I used Vermeer.' 'I used tamar resin.' 'I used this medium or that medium.' That's exactly what I wanted, sharing styles, techniques, everything, even their connections to framers, how to save money, where they
get their supplies, how to work on new surfaces."
The gallery also contains Kirk's collection of art books for reference purposes. He bought a beginner's art kit and started painting in Denver, Colorado, moving to Los Angeles in 1988. "I thought L.A. would be bigger, a metropolitan place where I could sell my works," he explained.
His first major sale was to David Hockney. "That told me I was in the right place doing the right thing," he reminisced.
He exhibited in different galleries in different places, and within a short time such celebrities as Arnold Schwartzenegger, Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson, Glenn Close, Willie Nelson, and Brooke Shields were among his clients. "L.A. isolated me in my own ivory tower. I wanted to meet and paint with other artists."
Kirk moved to Encinitas to join an art colony, which put on several art shows. It wasn't quite what he was looking for, so he continued to search for gallery space on his own. He found San Clemente. "I love being here. It's an ideal place for artists. I live here. We can move things around the gallery without waiting for board meetings and several months before a decision is made. I've learned, if you put artists together, they will make it work. They have to have a say and some freedom, be able to participate, and have a voice. Here, they do," he said proudly.
In the future, Kirk and his colleagues look forward to regularized meetings; offering art classes for children, adults, art lovers and refresher courses for painters; extending the front of the building to enable outside painting; getting into other media such as film and digital artistry; using wireless remote so artists can bring in their computers; and serving as a hub or reference point for people looking for local artists with specific skills. They also want to continue Art Walks every fourth Thursday of the month all year round, planning to be open from 6 to 9 p.m. with music, refreshments, wine, and artist camaraderie.
The WestEdge Gallery can be contacted at 429-1633.