Redefining Art Inspired by Nature

1 art and nature 1 Main Beach Land Art Project_Jim Denevan
Land artist Jim Denevan at work.

Sunbathers who languidly make squiggles in the sand rarely draw much attention. Not so for Jim Denevan, a land artist whose work elevates the beach-goer’s favorite pastime with huge circles, squares, even a cross and other shapes. These, carefully delineated to create a sense of light and dark, comprise Denevan’s oeuvre, which inevitably draws a crowd of people who interact with his ephemeral work that nature erases as the tide rises.

But, it’s not just sand Denevan turns into works of art. He has transformed other earthen surfaces and even braved Siberian winter to draw spirals onto the frozen surface of Lake Baikal, the deepest and oldest freshwater lake in the world.

On the beach, drawings can cover a mile as Denevan becomes absorbed into a meditative state of creating. He professes to like the idea of impermanence, something that runs contrary to notions that artists should speak to generations after them and to desire immortality. All is not lost, however, as his work has been captured in photographs and even made its way into television commercials.

Based in Santa Cruz, Denevan surfs and stages alfresco food feasts where the placement of tables and entrees combine to create a work of performance art.

The north end Main Beach serves as Denvan’s next canvas, part of the Laguna Art Museum’s Art & Nature festival. Beginning early Saturday, Nov. 9, Denevan will create a work until dusk and then illuminate the work, or what will be left of it, at night. Hence, the museum’s description as an “illuminated drawing.”

The brainchild of the museum’s executive director, Malcolm Warner, Art & Nature is part festival, part symposium and replaces the museum’s 14-year participation in the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association Invitational, which just concluded at a new venue.

Building on the museum’s founding by artists who paid homage to nature by painting it, Warner wants to open the museum’s agenda to broader explorations how art and nature intersect.

“The board, staff and I felt that we should create an event that is open to all sorts of California art rather than showcasing one particular form of expression,” said Warner. “It does not take a genius to figure out that the two big elements of Laguna Beach are a love of art and things natural, so it makes sense to expand on the theme.”

Warner took inspiration from Reno’s Nevada Museum of Art and its Center for Art+Environment. The institution promotes art based on interaction between man and nature, including architecture and virtual environments, and offers resources for artists, scientists and scholars.

Warner and staff, including Marinta Skupin, the museum’s curator of education, began the project earlier this year and in the process engaged local artists, architects and galleries to help organize and move the event forward.

Surprisingly, Warner singled out Laguna Beach gallerist Peter Blake for his sure-fire instincts, since Blake has resolutely banished every trace of representative art from his shows. When Warner first tried to mine him for ideas, Blake demurred but then got on board. “I was amazed, talking with my artists, how many told me that, yes, they are deeply inspired by nature,” Blake said. Consequently, his gallery will stage “The Nature of Abstraction,” to open on Nov. 7.

Eight other galleries are joining in with nature-inspired shows of their own.

Art and science intersect during a panel discussion at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 9. Marine biologist Michael Latz, an expert in bioluminescence at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography; artist Tanya Aguiñiga, who created the ocean-inspired installation “Sea Change”; and Adam Silverman, a Los Angeles-based ceramicist/sculptor whose work is also in the museum, join the discussion.

Silverman, a frequent visitor to Laguna Beach, wood-fired some pots seen in the exhibition in the fire pits of Aliso Beach, utilizing sea salt and seaweed and sand. However, he will not do that this weekend, citing the already many references to nature in the show. “The circular rooms in the show reference funerary and religious spaces, the genesis of art and nature,” he said.

California historian Kevin Starr will deliver the keynote address, “Art, Nature, and the American Landscape: Pioneer Pathways Toward Defining California,” using landscape paintings and seascapes from the museum’s permanent collection to illustrate his points, said Warner.

Another panel discussion on Sunday, Nov. 10, will bring together Denevan, landscape architect Brian Tichenor and William L. Fox, director of the Center for Art+Environment.

With Skupin designing programs for Family Day on Sunday, the small-fry can try their hands at a Sea Change collage and explore the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Aquarium on Wheels.

“We were going to theme this year’s festival just on the ocean but then decided that we wanted to offer a broader perspective, to leave plenty of room for sequels,” said Warner.



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