An obelisk at the Laguna Beach library, the chess table at Main Beach, and most spectacularly “Third Reef,” whirls of blues and greens that swirl across amphitheater seats at the Brooks Street beach entrance. Walk a few blocks in town and one can easily encounter one of several public art works by Marlo Bartels, known for structures featuring brilliantly hued freeform tiles. And that doesn’t count his many private commissions behind the closed doors of local homes, embellishing firepits, patios and bathrooms with his signature whorls.
The Laguna Beach artist’s specialty recently earned him a week in residence at Fullerton College, which followed the college commissioning him to design and execute a mural. It depicts what’s known as “orange crate art,” motifs based on labels created for citrus packers that are now considered collectors memorabilia.
Bartels describes the work as a pictorial mosaic and geometric mural, which is defined by arches reminiscent of the Giralda arches in Seville, Spain, as well as images recalling the area’s citrus-label motifs. He said viewers will feel as if they are looking through arches at an orange grove, which was supplanted by the college building.
At the invitation of the college’s art faculty, Bartels demonstrated his design process and techniques to students and the public recently.
Examples of his work are on exhibit at the college art gallery. Composed of older and current works, including benches, chess and checkers sets, sculptures and a fountain on loan from the Festival of Arts, the show is Bartels’ third at the Fullerton College Art Gallery, said director Carol Henke. Selected works are for sale, with five percent of the proceeds earmarked for scholarships. “Artists in residence usually get paid a stipend and also donate one work of art to the school,” she said. In Bartels‘ case, unspecified payment includes the residency and creation of the tile mural, she added.
Fullerton’s artist in residency program began in 1972 with Wayne Thiebaud, a painter also with strong ties to Laguna Beach and the subject of a Laguna Art Museum retrospective in 2007.
Bartels received three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts between 1977 and 1982 to expand his craft and experiment with new building materials and tile crafting techniques. Aesthetically, he finds inspiration in the architectural forms of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi and in the sophisticated design forms of the Mudèjar people of Iberia, whose art and architecture incorporates Christian and Muslim influences.