Since opening his first gallery at Village Fair in Laguna Beach, Peter Blake has remained faithful to his creative vision, championing West Coast Minimalism. All the artwork in his “Twenty-Five Years” exhibit at his sleek, white Ocean Avenue gallery is made by California artists working within the Light and Space, Finish Fetish, Cool School and Hard-Edge movements.
For this milestone anniversary, Blake has curated an exhibition of historic and recent West Coast Abstraction, including works by Lita Albuquerque, Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Ron Cooper, Mary Corse, Tony Delap, Laddie John Dill, Joe Goode, James Hayward, Scot Heywood, Craig Kauffman, John McCracken, John M. Miller, Marcia Hafif, Ron Nagle, Helen Pashgian, Hadi Tabatabai, and De Wain Valentine. Over half the works are on loan from major collections. One, called “1/10/14,” made of urethane by Peter Alexander belongs to Blake and his wife.
Gisela Colon, a contemporary artist and collector who had Blake’s help building her own collection, calls him a classic, quintessential, old-fashioned gallerist. “He is one of them, not because he has been in the art world for 25 years—though that, in and of itself is a feat of endurance and undeterred presence—but most importantly because he has ‘the eye.’ By any tangible metric, Peter possesses the intangible asset of seeing the aesthetic of the future,” she wrote in an article published in the May 2019 edition of the online magazine, Artsy.net.
Blake, 55, showed the work of Joe Good, Peter Alexander, Tony DeLap and Laddie John Dill, along with others, before they achieved fame. Of late, he’s included works by Larry Bell, Mary Corse, Helen Pashgian and Fred Eversley in his exhibits.
The gallerist has no formal art training. “I’ve always loved beautiful things,” he said. Blake is from a New York family, which was involved in the restaurant business, and he worked at Romeo Cucina upon arriving in Laguna Beach in 1987. With regard to selecting artworks he said, “I choose what I’d like to hang in my own home.”
Working in a restaurant, Blake said, gave him the opportunity to meet a lot of people. “I became known as the ‘apartment guy’ because I could help new arrivals in town find apartments and jobs.” Years later he says he’s become ‘the gallery guy,’ now advising would-be gallerists how to launch their businesses.
Two years after opening his first gallery, Blake relocated to “gallery row” in North Laguna, and along with Bill DeBilzan, started Laguna’s Art Walk. He personally curates every show he exhibits and every art fair he attends.Front and center of “Twenty-Five Years” is an untitled work of gold leaf on resin, almost 4 feet square, by Lita Albuquerque, whose “Elongated Now” performance piece was the centerpiece of Laguna Art Museum’s second Art and Nature exhibit.
Larry Bell has two pieces in the show. One called “Light Knot” made of Mylar-coated paper floats above Blake’s desk, and the second made from glass, coated in a material that changes the way it absorbs light, and framed in matte black, falls into the Finish Fetish category. Finish Fetish started in Los Angeles when the use of industrial materials and processes began to be employed by Light and Space artists. “A lot of them were surfers and car buffs,” Blake said, explaining the incorporation of resins, fiberglass and auto enamel into the artists’ work.
Other works by Finish Fetish artists are Craig Kauffman’s untitled lozenge-shaped acrylic lacquer and vacuum-foamed plastic “wall bubble” and “Kanoon,” a “plank” coated with lacquer, polyester resin and fiberglass by John McCracken.
Blake selected one piece by Tony DeLap, titled “Perplexity” for the “Twenty-Five Years” exhibit. The recently passed DeLap was dubbed a pioneer in Finish Fetish, Abstractionism, Minimalism and Op Art. “Perplexity” was made in 1988 of oil on canvas and wood.
Another example of the use of industrial plastics and resins is De Wain Valentine’s “Concave Circle Rose” of cast polyester resin. It glows atop a plain white pedestal in front of a plain white wall.
Laddie John Dill, known for crafting light and materials like concrete, glass, sand and metal into his work since 1970, and more recently for making “Electric Light Blanket” on Main Beach for Laguna Art Museum’s 2015 Art and Nature exhibit, has an untitled piece in the show made using stainless steel and argon light tubing.
Although Blake spends a great deal of time helping a select group of clients build their West Coast Minimalist art collections, attending art fairs and dealing with national and international online sales, he is adamant about retaining his brick and mortar gallery.
“Laguna is where I started, it’s where I live, and my gallery is a beautiful space to mount exhibits that are then photographed and shared with collectors all over the world,” he said. “There is, and always has been, an enthusiastic appreciation by the residents who appreciate contemporary abstract art.”
The opening reception for “Twenty-Five Years” at Peter Blake Gallery, 435 Ocean Avenue, is Sunday, June 30, from 12-2 p.m.