Now Playing

The Art of Association

There’s strength in numbers for Chantal deFelice and O.C.’s community of creatives.

For Chantal deFelice, O.C.'s art scene offers a much-needed support system.

Let’s be honest. In the past, California as a whole has hardly been seen as an epicenter for art. And while small pockets exist (Laguna Beach, for one), the greater lackluster landscape has sent many of Orange County’s emerging talents fleeing to greener pastures. But that’s beginning to change. Just take a look at the art colonies that have sprouted in recent years in Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Fullerton and San Clemente. And the local artists and gallery owners who live there are working to rev the pulse of the local creative scene. Chantal deFelice is one of them.

deFelice works from a studio space in downtown San Clemente. The single room is lined with windows, and is furnished with a computer desk and a drafting table. On the wall, she’s written a passage from Henry Miller’s short story, “The Eye of Paris.” Among the quoted lines: “By depersonalizing himself, as it were, he was enabled to discover his personality everywhere in everything.” And deFelice’s own work is scattered throughout the space. This is where she creates—pieces ranging from paintings to handmade jewelry that she sells through Seed People’s Market at Costa Mesa’s The Camp retail hub and Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana. Friends stop in to say hello. She answers emails, writes blog posts, investigates new art shows and interacts with the artists in
her community.

“I wish I had access to this network when I graduated from school,” says deFelice, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Laguna College of Art and Design. She started noticing a shift about five years ago—a growing community of emerging artists began seeking the same communal support she longed for. She was living in Pittsburgh at the time, looking for real-life (and big-city) experience. But she was lured back by word of a developing society of brethren. “Having an art community here inspired me and made me want to be here,” she says. “It helped me to develop my style.”

deFelice’s work speaks to the intimacy of the personal touch and the small details that are etched into everyone’s life. “Everything,” she says, “has a human touch, without seeing it.” Her current works, cityscapes painted on reclaimed wood, capture the spirit of places she’s been—from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles to San Francisco. Torrey Cook, the owner of Artists Republic for Tomorrow in Laguna Beach, is drawn to the subtleties she finds in each piece. “There is a whole, wide world of nature,” she says. “And if you didn’t stop to look, you would miss it.”

There’s no doubt the influence a community can have in developing one’s work and focus. But for deFelice, these new relationships have resulted in something more—a desire for collaborative work. “I have been looking at things through new lenses, and I have also become more interested in multimedia,” she says. “It is hard to find people who share your aesthetic, but it is one of my goals to find people to collaborate with.” She envisions installation-based works using multimedia elements such as video and sound, and she’s looking toward her new community of artists to join her.

The venue for such exchanges of artistic ideology wouldn’t be possible without the local art galleries that support the work of emerging talent—Artists Republic for Tomorrow, Curbside and Päs are among them. “We provide a great space for young artists to show, to bring different styles of art to Laguna Beach and to inspire creativity,” says Cook. “It really is an amazing time to be part of the Orange County art community. We are like the Wild West, but with badass artists.”