The brown-eyed man in a Laguna Beach police uniform and baseball cap wears a slight smile, his facial expression radiating security and strength. Officer Jon Coutchie, the subject of the artist’s portrait, was killed in a traffic collision on Sept. 21, 2013, the second Laguna Beach police officer to die in the line of duty in 50 years.
Moved by the officer’s death, Laguna Beach artist Jorg Dubin decided to turn a photograph of Coutchie into a painting he titled “Hero.”
“You could tell by the look on his face that he was a good, kind human being,” said Dubin, who recalled seeing Coutchie patrolling through town on his motorcycle and knew of his reputation for not just writing tickets and moving on, but for talking with people and telling them what they’d done to trigger a stop. “He was one of those cops who wanted to be part of the community and he knew the locals,” Dubin said.
While Dubin did not know Coutchie personally, he has a connection with other officers in the department who he got to know at a gym where they all work out. “The more I thought about that tragic accident, the more I thought that it was important to give his fellow officers a memento that they could have at the station and that was meaningful to the community,” said Dubin, who made a gift of the portrait to the department some months ago.
The City Council acknowledged the gift this past Tuesday by recommending that “Hero” be displayed at police headquarters and issuing a formal letter of appreciation to the artist.
Coincidently, Coutchie was also honored as 2013’s officer of the year by the Exchange Club this past Thursday, during its annual police appreciation breakfast honoring police employees who while on duty performed beyond their job description.
Dubin, whose work has been exhibited at the Laguna Art Museum and the Peter Blake Gallery in Laguna Beach, is known for injecting social commentary in some of his portraiture, such as the banker garbed in pinstripes and a clown’s accouterments or the self-designated emperor basking in klieg lights but unclothed.
While a masterful painter, Dubin’s talents in other mediums also enrich the town out of doors, visible in several public art commissions. The 2011 installation “Semper Memento” in Heisler Park honoring the victims of Sept. 11 is his best known. Incorporating remnants of steel beams from the destroyed World Trade Center, the sculpture centers on a shiny globe that reflects its surroundings as well as anyone contemplating it.
While Dubin’s portrait of Coutchie will be displayed in the police department’s administrative offices where there is little foot traffic, a more accessible public memorial was installed last September on the first anniversary of Coutchie’s death. “Eternal Legacy,” a sculpture installation dedicated to Coutchie and Gordon French, the department’s first officer to die while on duty in 1953, adds gravitas to an alcove outside the department’s public entry on the south side of City Hall. Commissioned by the city, the $100,000 glass and brass memorial was created by Laguna Beach artists Michele Taylor and Gerard Stripling and underwritten with donations to the Laguna Beach Police Employees Association. Dubin was among the finalists considered for the commission along with Marlo Bartels and Terry Thornsley.
“The gift has touched the police community deeply,” Association president Larry Bammer said of the
portrait. He said Dubin’s painting brought tears to his eyes.
“After Jon died, the organization was in crisis. None of our employees had ever experienced the loss of an officer before,” said Lt. Jeff Calvert, a high school friend of Coutchie’s, who steered the former Army Ranger to a job in Laguna Beach after his military service. “Everyone was overcome with emotion, but we are aware that Jon has created a legacy of his own. He will never be forgotten,” said Calvert, who added that members of the public wishing to see the painting could be accommodated.
Known as something of an iconoclast, Dubin said he harbored an innate distrust of authority in his younger days. That was put aside when putting brush to canvas to create Coutchie’s likeness. “This was a different thing. I don’t really know what drove me, I can’t really put it into words. There is an innate separation between the uniform and the public. For me, it was about ridding the gap between them, going past the uniform. Cops are just people who made a career choice, ” he said.Firebrand Media LLC wants comments that advance the discussion, and we need your help to accomplish this mission. Debate and disagreement are welcomed on our platforms but do it with respect. We won't censor comments we disagree with. Viewpoints from across the political spectrum are welcome here. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, our community is not obliged to host all comments shared on its website or social media pages, including:
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