Pageant pays tribute to Laguna Beach artist 

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The Pageant of the Masters celebrates 90 years since the first “living pictures” – tableaux vivants – were presented as a novelty during the 1933 Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach. Celebrating this milestone, this summer’s production, “Art Colony: In the Company of Artists,” acknowledges the deep connections and memorable stories of artists assisting one another throughout the world and throughout history, including the art colony established in Laguna Beach in the early years of the 20th century. Paintings by well-known Laguna Beach artist Roger Kuntz are transformed into “living pictures” on the Pageant stage, highlighting the modern master whose work has withstood the test of time.

Pageant of the Masters re-creation of Roger Kuntz’s “Morning Thoughts.” Photo/Ron Azevedo

“I have an abiding love for Roger’s work,” Pageant Director Diane Challis Davy said. “I did not know him well, but seeing his paintings on display in my father’s Laguna art gallery as a youngster really made a big impression on me.”

The Pageant’s longtime scriptwriter Dan Duling said the 2009 retrospective of Kuntz’s work at the Laguna Art Museum floored him. 

“Freeways! Blimps! Surreal moonscapes- You sensed a creative mind at play gifted with the artistic tools to do pretty much anything he wanted. And the more I learned about his career, the more my admiration grew.”

Following his graduate study at Claremont College, Kuntz and his family first vacationed at Crystal Cove just north of Laguna in 1958 in an effort to escape the summer heat of the Inland Empire. Not long after, they chose Laguna Beach as their new home. 

In 1960, Kuntz had an epiphany. While gazing at a concrete culvert, he suddenly became aware of the “real” merging with the abstract all around him. His acclaimed Freeway paintings explored the dynamic shapes of overpasses, ramps, tunnels and road signs with bold depictions in stark light and deep shadows. The first solo show in Los Angeles of his “Freeway Series” generated intense buzz, and an article in the October 1962 issue of Life Magazine, singled out Kuntz as an emerging California artist to watch.

In Laguna, Kuntz found subjects for his paintings everywhere he turned, even on the tennis courts where he played at the Festival of Arts. His artistic odyssey wasn’t limited to painting. In his later years, Kuntz became an active member of the Laguna Art Museum, an instructor at the Laguna College of Art and Design and an exhibiting artist at the Festival of Arts.

Duling noted that Kuntz was,” Smart, witty, and quick to laugh. He was a painter, sculptor, jazz trumpet and piano player, sky diver, and art teacher who once rode his motorcycle into the lobby of Hotel Laguna.”

Kuntz’s creative life was turned upside down when he learned of a cancer diagnosis in his forties, coupled with family turmoil and divorce. Keenly aware of his mortality, he began a new project, preserving iconic images of his adopted hometown on canvas.

“No other artist since Joseph Kleitsch has captured the essence of Laguna Beach so masterfully,” Challis Davy said. “One of my favorite paintings of Roger’s was a view down the ramp to Bluebird Beach. It is essentially a portrait of a utility structure. Only the great Roger Kuntz could find beauty and interest in that scene.”

At the end of August, Kuntz’s daughter, Mary Kuntz-Cote, who resides in the Bay Area, will attend the Pageant to witness its salute to her late father’s artistic legacy. 

“We look forward to welcoming her to see the production,” Challis Davy said. 

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