“When these city lights bring these streets to life….” sang Lou Reed in the song “City Lights,” implying that lights, in whatever configurations, make things happen. In a twist of those lyrics, locals and tourists strolling around Main Beach last Saturday night saw the usually beige expanse of sand come to life around 5 p.m. when the first little solar powered light of Jim Denevan’s latest piece of Land Art feebly flickered on.
As the sun bid adieu and the evening grew darker, hundred of others of the sort usually found in residential yards joined in creating patterns of circles and sundry shapes begging to be named.
Reportedly, it all began around 4 a.m. on Saturday morning when Denevan paced through the morning mist, delineating an area between the Main Beach Life Guard Tower and the cliffs closest to the Laguna Art Museum. His mission was to create a work of art that would embed itself into the mind of all who saw it and then let the forces of nature take it away.
The Laguna Art Museum’s executive director Malcolm Warner, had commissioned Denevan to create a piece
of Land Art suitable for Laguna’s Main Beach as part of the museum newest enterprise, an Art and Nature festival and symposium to take the place of the annual plein air paint out sponsored by Laguna Plein Air Painters Association (LPAPA) formerly held at the museum.
Denevan, a Santa Cruz-based surfer, artist and chef, bases his Land Art works on the idea that all of life is ephemeral. “I did plenty of research on land artists suitable for us and found Jim to be perfect,” said Malcolm Warner, the Laguna Art Museum’s executive director. Standing out in a coat and tie amongst volley ball players, hoopsters and little kids trying to purloin the little red flags delineating future placement of lights, he declared this first Art and Nature festival a keeper for coming years.
Stopping to survey the project’s progress, Laguna Beach locals Niko and Vicky Theris praised the museum for its expanding awareness, and artist Kirsten Whelan exulted that this sort of expansion was exactly what the community needed. “It’s pure magic,” said Tony Lee, visiting from San Diego.
“It is a great way of making people more aware of their environment,” said Barbara McMurray, a local resident.
Denevan’s website shows him working on beaches, creating strictly delineated forms in what appears to be wet sand. Not so here: “This is a dry sand painting. I do not smooth out the entire area but create individual areas in the sand,” he said.
Here, he follows the curves of the boardwalk but meanders north to the cliffs closest to LAM. “I took the width and lay of the beach into consideration and tried to keep the most vulnerable areas out of traffic circulation,” he said.
While video images of past projects show a lone man wielding a rake, broom or other implements suitable, here he worked among a beehive of volunteers manning rakes, shlepping boxes, corralling kids intent on purloining props, and passersby buttonholing passersby to catch the gist of “Art and Nature.”
Jordan Hartman strained every muscle to clear a piece of Main Beach between Pacific Coast Hwy. and the boardwalk. Ultimately it was not used, but her labor earned her community service hours at Laguna Beach High School. Christy Jarvy, a trained landscape architect and assistant to Denevan, coordinated volunteers to follow his instructions, articulated mostly by footsteps and swings of a rake.
And then came a thrill for the techies: Anyone wondering whether Denevan’s labors at the mercy of the whims of nature would be lost to posterity got their answer when a small drone, armed with a camera flew over the sandy “canvas.”
Love’s labors will not be lost, at least not in an age of technology.
Scrolling up to the evening’s light show in the beach, with cloud formations dissecting the sky and pelicans outlined on their usual rocky perches, one might ponder on the spiritual confluence between nature and art and vice versa.
On that evening, the oft-uttered word “awesome” reclaimed its meaning.