Best-known for his outstanding collages made from found or recycled objects, Laguna Beach artist Paul Darrow is also a prolific draftsman, noteworthy painter, photographer, witty cartoonist/writer and insightful illustrator. He also counted Millard Sheets, Phil Dike and Rex Brandt, noted California artists, among his friends.
His own contributions to Laguna Beach’s art legacy earned recognition at the sixth annual Art Star Award, where he was honored with a lifetime achievement award.
Born in Pasadena in 1921, he was educated in its environs, including a stint at Pasadena City College, before joining the Army Air Corps during World War II, though he never flew. Upon his return, he enrolled in the Claremont Graduate School. “A lot of us owe our education to the GI Bill,” he said.
He spent nearly 40 years teaching at his alma mater, Claremont’s Scripps College, Los Angeles’ Otis College of Art and Design and what is now the Laguna College of Art and Design. It was in the academic environs of Claremont that Darrow, a working writer and journalist, decided that his true calling lay in art.
A Laguna resident since 1963, Darrow has a gift for repurposing objects that predates any “green” movement. For example, when his home was flooded by a water leak, he used ruined books, records and magazines to make his most acclaimed work. Items in varying stages of decrepitude that nonetheless might still have a brilliant future as works of art clutter his garden studio. “I just can’t seem to throw stuff away,” he said.
During the 1990s, Darrow showed his work in Laguna Beach’s Peter Blake Gallery, but has not had any Laguna Beach shows or representation for the last four years, he said. Currently, his work is on exhibition at San Marino’s Huntington Library. “I feel like I’ve come full circle since I spent all my early life in the Pasadena area,” he said.
Rooms of Darrow’s home are filled with racks of framed art that reflect his breadth of skills, including drawings and figure paintings and countless abstract canvasses.
Not caught behind the times, he has again segued into variants of landscapes, which he first paints conventionally and then relies on a computer-savvy friend to transfer into a digital format. That allows him to further alter the images into intriguing abstracts. He still practices yoga, though his creativity and thinking adhere to Buddhist practices. Many collages contain Tibetan script.
After decades as a working artist, his collectors are too numerous to recall. He counts the late Sam Maloof, the current Orange County Museum of Art, Pasadena Art Museum, Scripps College, the Los Angeles Times, the Balboa Yacht Club, Air France, the U.S. Navy and several banks among them.
Commissioned by the Navy Art Liaison Cooperative, Darrow went to Vietnam in 1964 where he cruised the Gulf of Tonkin on a WWII-era ship, the Ticonderoga, drawing and painting what he saw. “Shipmates called me their ‘aesthetic chaplain’,” he recalled. His love for the ocean remains constant. He maintains his membership in the Balboa Yacht Club, where his 30-foot sailboat Gleam is berthed. Some of his paintings reflect scenes viewed from its deck.
All four of his children are also artists, writers, teachers and musicians.
Though now dogged by balance problems, Darrow lives in a quintessential Laguna cottage with an ocean view and an ambience that suggests time may have stood still. At 90, he has definitely not.