Festival of Arts: Nurturing local talent, realizing dreams

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By Rachelle Cano, Special to the Independent

Native Laguna Beach artist, writer, curator and graphic designer Vanessa Françoise Rothe and her European family moved to Laguna shortly after she was born. The vibrant Southern California artist retreat provided the ideal backdrop for her to cultivate her artistic sensibilities and creativity, a natural path for someone born into a creative family. Everything she needed to grow and bloom surrounded her.

Vanessa Rothe at the VRFA Atelier Gallery on 418 Ocean Avenue. Laguna Beach. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Rothe Fine Art Gallery

In her cozy cottage gallery on Ocean Avenue in the heart of the village, Rothe opens up to me in early April about her artistic journey, reminiscing about her childhood, flooded by vivid memories of her family’s traditional Craftsman home with lush gardens, avocado trees and the city’s inspiring landscapes and ocean views. In a Proustian fashion of evoking memory through nature, she reveals how these early impressions of life in Laguna deeply influenced her throughout her life, guiding her to the main genre she paints today, landscapes, having been an observer in Laguna’s paradise of endless natural beauty.

The proverb, “The apple does not fall far from the tree,” describes Rothe’s life as the daughter of legendary fashion designer Detlev Peter Rothe. Rothe praises her father’s brilliance in making one-of-a-kind, handmade leather bags and custom-painted silk clothing pieces that attracted rock star musicians, Hollywood costume designers, and others around the world to shop for their stage attire. Once the word got out that the Rolling Stones wore their custom hand-painted clothing on stage, and that Barbara Streisand was sighted in their PCH retail store, a rush of orders followed and the buzz of owning a one-of-a-kind painted silk garment gave the business the momentum it needed to carry this artisan family.

The VRFA Atelier Gallery on 418 Ocean Avenue. Laguna Beach. Photo courtesy of Rachelle Cano

Rothe has salient memories of her father’s booming business being a family affair, a sort of ‘all-artistic-hands-on-deck,” that meant partaking in late-night painting sessions, creating these amazing original pieces of wearable art. Her sophisticated, French mother Jacqueline Ricaud Rothe modeled the clothing that relied on her approval since according to Rothe, she was definitely a woman of style and grace with impeccable taste.

Rothe had the privilege of learning how to paint on silk at the tender age of ten, stretching out the fabric panel with her small yet dexterous hands over a table, pinning the edges down, turning the fabric into a canvas. Then, a high pigment, water-based paint was used to create these avant-garde pieces. After painting was complete, each piece would be baked to set the dye. What Rothe shares with me is a departure from the usual childhood finger-painting sessions, setting the stage for an extraordinary artistic journey.

She was not only inspired watching her father build his own small business from scratch, but had others in her internal sphere, like her French grandfather, François, an engineer, who was a huge influence in her life, constantly drawing her attention to all that is beautiful and interesting, from French history, to culture, language, and landscapes. Inspired by this, Rothe later created “The Americans in Paris”, a fine art project where she brings up to 25 collectors and students to Paris and France to teach, along with leading fine artists from America, painting, and art history workshops in France, now celebrating its eighth successful year.

Vanessa Rothe original painting in the permanent collection of the Hilbert Museum of California Art. “Laguna Coastline, A New Perspective” 20×16” oil. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Rothe Fine Art Gallery

As a high school student, Rothe excelled in watercolor painting and volunteered at the Pageant of the Masters, painting backgrounds and props for the summertime show. She considers working at the Pageant a rite of passage for Laguna Beach art students. She confesses that she would have loved to have been a model, but she was too busy painting, bringing the tableau vivant (living picture) to life.

She fondly remembers her art teachers, Hal Akins and Bill Darnell at Laguna Beach High who urged her to apply for the Festival of Arts (FOA) Scholarship Program, and to include one of her watercolor paintings– a vibrant and colorful image of a scene from Beauty and the Beast–with her application. Her support system included family, friends, and teachers but it was the validation she received as a young adult when awarded a first-year scholarship from the FOA that truly empowered her to soar. The scholarship program welcomes graduating seniors who attend school in Laguna Beach and are from various artistic disciplines, including Performing Arts, Visual Arts and Writing. The FOA has awarded scholarships and grants totaling over $3.5 million. In March, Laguna Beach High School seniors submit their applications for a first-year scholarship and recipients are announced during their graduation ceremony in June.

After Rothe went away to college, the FOA scholarship became a reminder through difficult challenges, that she was a talented artist, and she could pursue her dreams.

While at the University of San Diego (USD), Rothe enjoyed playing on the Division 1 volleyball team and studying Business Marketing and Art. She excelled in her Graphic Arts course in the late 1980’s and ended up loving it, becoming a graphic artist for two decades. She skillfully blended her analytical and creative abilities, integrating her academic business skills with her natural artistic talents. Her self-marketing skills have taken her around the world, hosting workshops in France, lecturing on fine art, and exhibiting her original artwork.

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Rothe Fine Art Gallery

Rothe humbly sighs as I commend her national and international press coverage, responding with sincere gratitude:

“The best feeling is to be celebrated by your hometown because you know you can go to New York and do great shows and it’s fine, but it doesn’t mean as much until your hometown says, “Wow! You really did well in the art world, and we had something to do with it!” She said.

Rothe recalls how the FOA board members followed her progress each year as she presented her work for her scholarship renewal:

“I would have to come into the Festival of Arts every year and go over my portfolio with them and they’d ask what I was working on, and I loved that aspect, you know, it was like having this group of people that cared about you and your work,” Rothe said.

I asked her if the caring and special attention she received from the FOA board of directors kept her in the mode of going professional as an artist:

“Yes, it’s like having these people you looked up to as a child believing in you, giving you that continued support to keep you going and that came across to me as, yes, you’ve got something, you’re going to make it. That was very inspirational,” Rothe said.

After attending USD, Vanessa was offered a position to play professional volleyball in Switzerland and worked as a graphic artist near Zurich for six years. Living in Switzerland allowed her to spend weekends exploring European museums in Italy and France, gaining insights on the Masters she considers essential for any artist seeking a solid foundation. Having visited Europe with her French mother and German father, experiencing it as an adult opened a new window of knowledge and deepened her passion for fine arts. She became captivated with the Masters, studying their works in depth and analyzing their chronological progress. She connected this to the notion that all great artists undergo phases and are in a constant state of transformation, with each piece telling a part of their life story. Inspired by the Masters’ dedication and how each painting marked a level in their evolution, Rothe returned to the States fueled with a burning desire to continue learning and advancing her career as an artist.

When Rothe returned to California from her athletic and creative endeavors abroad in her late twenties, she finished her bachelor’s in business marketing at UC Irvine (UCI) and double-majored in French literature (Rothe is fluent in French, her mother’s native language). Thus, she was truly equipped and ready to enter the professional world of art.

Rothe wears many hats as a writer and editor for multiple art magazine publications, lecturer, graphic designer, curator and has authored and illustrated a series of books: Art School Approach to Oils books, available in Barnes and Noble and Amazon. I asked her if she ever felt that ‘tug-of-war’ between the arts and the business world that can sometimes dissuade an aspiring artist from pursuing their dreams. She chuckled and blurted out:

“All the time! I still feel it today,” she said. “I am writing for American Art Collector, and I have a monthly column in International Artist Magazine called Art Industry Insider, where I write about how to run a fine art business as an artist. I was a West Coast editor for the past sixteen years at Fine Art Connoisseur and did graphic design at night. This is how I support my own art business. I am blessed to have an art gallery in Laguna Beach and be able to display my work and take care of my family with multiple streams of income.”

“I encourage my two sons to pursue their own dreams no matter how difficult they may seem,” Rothe said. “I have been diligently raising two boys, then running to the easel, to writing, to painting, and doing graphic design at night– this is my way of living a full life and demonstrating to my family that one can be successful if you work hard. Everything I do, I do for them. My husband, Tom Ribarich, is a successful engineer (who also played professional volleyball) and encourages me to do all my artful jobs while raising our boys, as he knows I can do both and I need both and bring in income to our family. I’m so grateful to be Laguna, watching my sons attend the same high school I attended and being their role model.”

Rothe is living proof that art can thrive despite the challenges of navigating the business side. With education and mentorship, artists can stay true to their artistic vision and find a place in the art community, offering audiences, collectors, and art appreciators from every walk of life, reflections of beauty and imagination.

One cannot be a budding Laguna Beach artist and not attend Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD). To complete her educational journey and pursue that final experience in learning, Rothe enrolled at LCAD for classical art training, which has solidified her as a fine artist who is classically trained and gave her the needed technical skills to paint many subjects. Unfortunately, drawing for long hours in the same position caused her to develop chronic back pain. Instead of giving up, Rothe found a way to alleviate her back pain by intuitively turning to easel painting, much of it outdoors en plein air (in the open air).

She paints in oils and was amazed with the ease of transitioning from the high pigment watercolor she had used through the years in high school. It came so naturally. A major Laguna art gallery called Wendt Gallery soon picked her up as an up-and-coming new artist. She was the only local artist they took from Laguna. The opportunity snowballed into more art exhibits, fine art auctions, and even an influx of more work assignments as an art writer and graphic artist for prominent art magazines. Her career took off because she believed in herself, years after others, including the Festival of Arts, had believed in her. She has since been honored to have exhibited and sold her work at some of the top fine art galleries, such as Arcadia Contemporary in New York, Richard Schmid Fine Art Auctions, Abend Gallery Denver, and Galerie L’Oeil du Prince, Paris. Rothe is currently interviewing to be an artist with a top gallery in Orange County this week.

Her latest collection merges fine art and fashion. She has carved out her own niche with her new figurative and impressionistic style drawings, oils and watercolors that portray haute couture. These captivating pieces led to her to being invited to exhibit them at the Fine Art and Fashion Exhibition in New York at the Salmagundi Club where she is a proud artist member. Rothe is thrilled to give lectures as well as live demonstrations at this famed art club on Fifth Avenue in New York. You can find some of these new fashion-inspired paintings on her gorgeous website under Figures + Fashion, along with all her other genres under the drop-down menu titled “SHOP ART COLLECTIONS, or in the “AMERICANS IN PARIS” tab at vanessarothefineart.com

Rothe’s artwork, “Laguna Coastline, A New Perspective” 20X16” oil painting is now included in the permanent collection of the Hilbert Museum of California Art, where she is also an art history lecturer. She feels that reaching this high point in her career can be traced back to those who believed in her during her developmental years, especially FOA:

“I would like to thank the Festival of Arts for all their support at a young age when someone needed it and didn’t have the finances to fully support a college education,” Rothe said. “The meetings with them were the most important and pivotal moments to me. I still remember one elderly gentleman at the end of this long conference table, looking at me and saying, ‘Wow, you really have something. Have you thought about going into illustration or fine art? And, you know… maybe one day you’ll make a difference.’ I feel that really stuck with me and I’ve made a difference. In addition to my own success as a fine artist, I’m so proud to have had the privilege of supporting numerous artists in launching their careers, both as a writer and as a gallery owner. By showcasing exceptionally talented individuals who might otherwise have gone unrecognized, I see it as my way of paying it forward within the artistic community.”

Rothe identifies as a landscape as well as a fashion-themed painter with a realistic yet slightly impressionistic style. She is drawn to painting en plein air in the world’s most beautiful locations where she has lived or visited, including Laguna where she feels “there is a painting everywhere”, and enjoys the freedom of designing fashions on her easel with thick strokes of color, her new series. Her collections are displayed at her 418 Ocean Avenue gallery reflects her experiences mixed with impressionistic imagination, exuding vibrant color palettes inspired by nature. I encourage you to visit her gallery, a serene escape from the modern world, where you can immerse yourself in the natural beauty that radiates through her artistic creations.

A more complete list of her work can be found under the About tab on her website. www.vanessarothefineart.com.

For more information or to apply for a FOA scholarship, please visit: www.foapom.com/about/grants-scholarships/scholarships.

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