Spotlighting the Reluctant Renaissance Man
At age 92, Laguna Beach artist Paul Darrow does not venture down the rickety stairs to his memento-filled home basement very often. But, that’s where friend Mark Chamberlain found him during a recent visit.
Darrow had immersed himself in the slightly musty confines, contemplating an uncounted trove of art works he had produced and wondered what could be done with the lot once his long and productive life ends.
“He felt a bit down, but then we had an epiphany. Why not organize a retrospective show featuring highlights of his work? That perked him up instantly,” said Chamberlain.
With the help of friends and family, thought turned into deed and “Autumnal Recollections With Our Friend Paul,” is scheduled to open with a reception from 4-8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22, at BC Space. Chamberlain’s second-level Forest Avenue gallery is behind an inconspicuous steel door at 525 Forest Ave.
Darrow still makes intricate collages from magazine photographs. They are partially stripped of pigment by brushing on a chemical solution, thus creating abstract shapes to either stand alone or serve as background for other objects or images he layers on. He also creates bitingly witty cartoons for the Claremont Courier newspaper (and occasionally for the Indy) as he has for the last 50 years. Selections from his work were recently exhibited in a show titled “Seeing in Black and White,” at Claremont’s Memorial Park.
Several of his paintings and collages were also included in exhibits at the Pasadena Museum of California Art and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Pacific Standard Time exhibitions.
In another recognition of Darrow body of work, he received a lifetime achievement award last year from Laguna Beach’s Art Stars Awards. “Art is not a career, it’s a way of life,” he said, in accepting the award.
Modest and self-effacing, he shrugged off the Renaissance man description ascribed to him. “That’s someone who is either enormously talented or just can’t make up his damn mind,” he said then.
Since he’s also a photographer, jazz clarinetist, sailor and illustrator, one might stop at “enormously talented.” Among his displayed oeuvre at BC Space are also several books he illustrated.
“I no longer paint on canvas or do too intricate collages since I can’t do heavy lifting,” said Darrow, who makes art every day. He only turned melancholy when he revealed that he has finally put the Gleam, his beloved sailboat, up for sale.
When word of the planned show got out, friends stepped up. Ceramicist Richard White, 61, has known Darrow since infancy. He serves as co-curator along with Chamberlain.
“My dad helped Paul get tenure at Scripps College,” recalled White, who also grew up in Claremont.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, White, exhibition designer Serge Armando and Page, Armando’s 20-year-old daughter, hung some of the close to 100 works that will be seen. Spanning a time frame between the 1960s and now, White describes it as the biggest survey of Darrow’s work that has ever been staged.
It includes Darrow’s collages from recycled materials and which nearly always include a Mandala type shape or Buddhist inspired calligraphic forms. “My mother was a practicing Buddhist and I started making little fake calligraphs at age 2,” he recalled.
No stranger to adversity, art has sustained Darrow while recovering from brain surgery four years ago and in the aftermath of flooding of his home. Soaked vintage records and album covers and rusted out objects found their way into picture frames and behind glass at among other venues, the Peter Blake Gallery, which mounted four solo Darrow shows during 10 years of representation.
“He’s the finest contemporary artist who’s come out of Laguna and the only collage artist I have ever shown,” said Blake. “He was into recycling and sustainable living before the term became chic.”
Fellow artists schlepped works up the steep gallery stairway and cleaned glass and frames of works stored all too casually for too many years.
“I got very selfish pleasure out of helping since it allowed me to study Paul’s work closely,” said Laguna ceramic artist Marlo Bartels.
Painter Sandra Jones Campbell lent her van to White, who clipped two parked cars trying to situate closely to BC’s door. Still, generous spirits prevail. “I met Paul on occasion and I wanted to help. It’s artists like Paul who gave me a great sense to expand and grow,” said Campbell.
Besides hundreds of works of art, Darrow leaves another artistic legacy in form of his four children and six grandchildren. Daughters Joan and Elizabeth paint; son Eric is a ceramicist; another son, Chris, and grandson Bryce, are musicians. The latter will perform at the opening.