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Karl Unnasch, “Burnt Matchstick” (2015, fabricated steel and backlit opalescent glass), 40 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet


Art & Soul

By William Lobdell

Photo by Cat Thisius


It’s a glittering display of anniversaries, first-time exhibitions and jaw-dropping sculpture installations as we celebrate the people, places and works that have the O.C. arts scene abuzz.

Whimsical sculptures light up the Newport Beach Civic Center Park.

Laguna Beach and Costa Mesa are known as an artist colony and City of the Arts respectively, but neighboring Newport Beach has kept up with the Joneses by creating and curating an impressive Civic Center sculpture garden that refreshes every few years with new larger-than-life pieces. The latest nine sculptures arrived this fall after a public poll, consultation with experts and vetting by the Arts Commission and City Council. The pieces—which include Karl Unnasch’s 40-foot-high “Burnt Matchstick” (made of steel and stained glass that’s backlit at night) and Oleg Lobykin’s “No Swimming,” (a massive aluminum shark fin)—have taken up temporary residence next to City Hall in a lush space designed by landscape architect Peter Walker. Craig Gray’s “Popsicles”—a playful pop art piece featuring giant orange, purple and red dripping desserts stacked on top of each other—finished first in the public voting. It’s not surprising, since the artist says he got his inspiration from the popular roadside Americana images of his youth. “Some art is not serious,” notes Gray. “This piece looks more at cultural icons of America and appeals to young and old alike. It takes people back to their childhood.” 

Beloved marine artist Wyland makes a splash at his new exhibition at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.

From the bluff-top perch of The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, guests can spot California gray whales on their annual trek to and from breeding grounds in Baja. So the luxury hotel on the edge of the Pacific is a natural setting for an exhibition featuring Wyland, an artist known for his iconic depictions of those awe-inspiring creatures (see his massive “Whaling Wall” murals) and marine life. Hope of the Ocean, which runs now through Jan. 4, includes 25 original oil paintings, Chinese sumi brush paintings, giclees on canvas, watercolors, a bronze sculpture and a mixed media coffee table. The exhibit was inspired by the nonprofit Wyland Foundation’s recent partnership with the United Nations Environment Program in support of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. “The ocean has been a source for awe and wonder since time began, but we’ve come to a crossroads where what we do now can make all the difference for the next 10 thousand years,” says Wyland. “I’ve always seen incredible beauty in the sea. I suppose that’s why I feel such a responsibility to ensure the health of this precious resource.”  

Brian McCracken

Brian McCracken

A passion for the arts led San Clemente’s Brian McCracken to open the seaside town’s first fine art gallery.

Eight years ago at a San Clemente bar, Brian McCracken met an elderly art dealer who encouraged him to consider art as an investment and then helped him buy his first piece (an original Erté painting from 1904, which proved to be a shrewd purchase). McCracken, the owner of a San Clemente-based software company, quickly became obsessed with collecting art (from California impressionism and pop to abstract and graffiti) as well as making it (he’s a self-taught artist fond of bright colors). Earlier this year, he acquired and painted enough pieces to open OC Contemporary Art Gallery in an 80-year-old building at San Clemente’s North Beach. In less than a year, he’s added 16 local artists and sold works to collectors in five countries. The combination of homegrown talents and modern masters such as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Man Ray has turned the fledgling gallery into an overnight sensation—all according to plan. “In addition to becoming a local fixture,” he says, “the intent was to put O.C. on the map as a legitimate source of contemporary art nationally and internationally.” Mission accomplished. 

Photo by Jay Reilly

Marta Juhasz

Marta Juhasz

Toasting her fifth anniversary, Avran Fine Art owner Marta Juhasz reflects on her path to success.

After 25 successful years in the business world, Marta Juhasz had saved enough money to follow her passion and open an art gallery in Laguna Beach. Five years later, “Avran Fine Art has [earned] its reputation as a museum-quality glass gallery,” says the Hungarian native. The gallery has become a favorite of high-end interior designers and well-versed collectors, with glass pieces running upward of $80,000. Featured artists include Laguna Beach native Christopher Jeffries, but Juhasz’s ongoing goal is to discover international creatives whose artwork she can introduce to new audiences in the United States. The Avran team selects new talent through a rigorous process that includes an onsite interview, which also allows the artist to find out more about the gallery, where their work will be sold on consignment. Avran’s longevity is bolstered, in part, by Laguna’s monthly First Thursday Art Walks featuring more than 40 participating galleries. “The art scene in Laguna Beach is vibrant, fun and attractive to locals and visitors from all around the world,” she notes. Onward and upward. 

For her first solo U.S. exhibition, Shi Zhiying brings her ethereal works to the Orange County Museum of Art.

Revel in the tranquility of creativity at Orange County Museum of Art’s latest exhibition, a collection of Buddhist-influenced paintings by Shanghai’s Shi Zhiying. It’s Zhiying’s inaugural solo show in the United States, providing SoCal with a chance to experience what made the artist popular in China. “This is... the first time I’ve gathered almost 20 artworks from 2011 until now,” says Zhiying as she viewed the exhibition before it opened. “So when I looked around this morning in the museum, I felt excited that these artworks [have] connections to each other when they are placed together.” Inspired by her travels to China, Cambodia and India, Zhiying highlights subjects that have been softened by man or nature, such as in her piece “Rock Carving of 1,000 Buddhas,” which is now part of OCMA’s permanent collection. “Our new exhibition [which ends Dec. 31] allows us to examine the greater range of her work and continues OCMA’s goal to be a leader in presenting the freshest voices from around the Pacific Rim,” notes OCMA Director and CEO Todd D. Smith. Go ahead, get inspired. 

Marta Juhasz photo by Cameron Gardner