Scenic California Seen at the Gate

Laguna artist Mike Tauber and one his tile paintings on display at John Wayne Airport through April.
Laguna artist Mike Tauber and one his tile paintings on display at John Wayne Airport through April.

The painting is titled “The Hunter” and depicts an egret intent on securing his next meal. Rendered in vivid purples against an orange sky, the bird wades through waters reflecting hues of his surroundings. The image, along with a number of luminous landscapes such “Merced Reflections,” “Woods Cove” and “Laguna Looking North” has been rendered on tile, the medium of choice for Laguna Beach artist Mike Tauber.

They are among 22 paintings currently on exhibit in the John Wayne Airport terminals, a display venue for Orange County art and artists.

Titled “Golden State,” Tauber’s work depicting bucolic scenes from throughout California can be seen at the airport’s three terminals in the arrival and departure areas.

Inspired by hiking, biking and kayaking trips, Tauber has immortalized the most scenic spots from Yosemite National Park to Woods Cove in Laguna Beach.

“I have been working on this series for a couple of years; the paintings are all new and have never been shown before,” said Tauber.

While the airport provides Tauber with perhaps his most diverse audience yet, he is a veteran of other public art commissions in Laguna Beach and elsewhere. His talents are visible on the facade of Laguna’s Whole Foods market, a mural at the Susi Q Community Center and the school of metal fish that swim across the Hagan Place apartment building on Mermaid Street.

He is also in a current group show titled “Yosemite Renaissance” at the museum in Yosemite Valley, here his work earned third place among 49 shown in the best of show category, he said.

Last year, Tauber finished a large tile mural of a citrus grove at Citrus Ranch Park, commissioned by the city of Tustin.

Architectural clients who wanted exterior art propelled Tauber’s trajectory into tile.

He specialized in environmental design and architectural illustration in earning a bachelor of arts degree from San Diego State University in 1985. He also took painting and ceramics classes where he made ceramic reliefs.

Once he graduated, he began making murals of tile since he wanted the art to last as long as the building he was illustrating. “The ceramic skill came in handy but I retained the heart and aesthetic of a painter,” Tauber said.

When a subject or view inspires him, he first photographs it and then paints it in acrylics on paper before moving to tile.

He described his tile creations as featuring color temperatures, meaning that he uses variants of color hues and intensity to create the effect of a painting.

While tile ornamentation tends to look flat, Tauber achieves a sense of perspective by intensifying color in the foreground and fading it gradually in the background.

“My work is a combination of drawing and painting. I first draw outlines in wax and then fill in the lines with glazes like one might with paint,” he said. He uses brushes to apply glaze in a wet on wet technique, much like a painter would blend wet oil paint on a canvas.

The latter turns out to be a unique challenge since he says that he really does not know what a color will look like until it is fired. “It’s an intuitive process, but since I keep a limited number of glazes in my studio, I know how they’ll turn out,” he said.

Other samples from Tauber’s “Golden State” series.
Other samples from Tauber’s “Golden State” series.

Using low fire glazes, he enjoys piling them on until he reaches the desired color intensity and texture. “I really attempt to give surfaces a lot of texture, to make them thick and make people want to touch them,” he said.

Tauber keeps a studio in Laguna Canyon where he shares a kiln with sculptor Michele Taylor, who with Gerard Stripling, recently won a commission to create a police memorial for Laguna. “We share ideas on processes and use of glazes and, while we have collaborated on some projects, I work mostly on my own,” he said.

An exhibitor at the Festival of Arts, Tauber is now busy creating work for the summer season, though he says most of his work is commissioned. Collectors can acquire a single tile for $200 or larger pieces can cost up to $20,000. “It’s not expensive if you consider the labor intensity of the process, but then I run an efficient studio,” he said.

The airport exhibition’s selection was by visual arts coordinator Jeffrey Frisch and a five-member airport arts commission.

“People have trepidations about travel and flying, so we are exhibiting art that is visually beautiful and uplifting,” said Frisch, an artist known for his “Dream Vessels,” ghostly looking ships made from found objects. After toiling at the airport since 1997, he has now began to make aircraft in a similar manner.

In using the airport to promote cultural tourism, the venue features local artists and provides promotion space for cultural experiences, such as Bowers Museum exhibitions and Laguna’s art festivals and playhouse.

The airport’s arts program was established in 1990 with the opening of the Thomas B. Riley Terminal, today terminal A & B. The idea has taken hold with the American Association of Airport Executives who are holding annual Arts in the Airport workshops, said Frisch.

The Hunter
The Hunter


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