Fresh approaches to art can be found weaved in with well-known works at these recently opened galleries.
By Stefanee Freedman
From walls showcasing Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí to street artists Banksy and Jeff Gillette, as well as mixed media, modern and abstract pieces by emerging artists and everything in between, a variety of new galleries have opened in Laguna Beach over the past year or so.
The owners of these galleries are a mix of creatives showcasing their own work to the coastal community and collectors ready to sell off some of their holdings while exhibiting pieces by artists from all over the world.
“Laguna Beach is an art center, which means that one of the top … art schools in the country is here,” says Mogie Dillow, director of Pop Art Masters Gallery, which opened earlier this year. “We have Pageant of the Masters and many art festivals are here. Anyone who wants to buy art comes here. It is a very bohemian town and a very artsy town.”
Laguna College of Art and Design alumnus Andrew Myers is a local artist who recently opened a gallery downtown to showcase his pieces along with those of other artists working in a variety of mediums and genres. Charles Pellicane and Suzanne Barber have galleries mainly displaying their own creative talents. Then there are newly opened spaces from worldwide collectors, like Ryan Wortham and Robin Liu, ready to display and sell their collections to art lovers coming through Laguna Beach.
“I am happy to be in Laguna Beach, and what better place to have a gallery than Laguna Beach,” says Wortham, owner of Kool Chit Street Art Gallery. “It is an artisan city. It was born as an artisan city.”
Here are some of the newest galleries to peruse while enjoying the artwork on display around town.
Andrew Myers Art
A Laguna resident since 1999, when he enrolled at LCAD (then called the Art Institute of Southern California), Myers had his first art showing at the Forest Avenue space that’s now his gallery, which opened in May.
“I was given an opportunity to do my first art show out of art school in this exact location,” Myers says. “This space was dear to me for a lot of different reasons. I always thought I wanted to open a gallery in Laguna, but never liked any spaces.” When this spot became available, he says, “it just seemed natural that I take it over and start my own gallery.”
Myers is known for putting thousands of screws into a panel and creating an image that is both a sculpture and a painting on the sculpture. Another artist whose pieces are displayed in the gallery uses an unconventional medium, too. JP Goncalves assembles precisely trimmed pieces of wood in a way that allows the light and shadows to form a picture. Among the other featured artists are Chris Ahalt, who makes glass-blown sea creatures and other animals; metal sculptor Christopher Schulz; and David Milton, who paints photolike renditions of vintage architecture, cars and Airstream trailers.
“When you walk into this gallery, you get to experience a very high level of craft,” Myers says. “But at the same time, there is a lot of adventure seeing what some of these pieces can transform and turn into.”
Kool Chit Street Art Gallery
Wortham, who has collected art for 15 years, never thought he would open a gallery. But last September, that’s exactly what he did, opening the doors of Kool Chit Street Art Gallery on South Coast Highway to showcase and sell some of the works he has amassed.
“I have a large collection that would probably not see the light of day and I’d rather it be enjoyed rather than hidden in a dark place,” Wortham says, adding that he has also acquired some new pieces for the gallery to sell.
Most of his collection centers around the street art genre. And, with the stigma attached to this type of art, he worried the gallery might not do well, but he has been surprised by how much has sold in the first year. “I do think, socially, our climate has changed and our perception has changed,” Wortham says. “Stigmas have dropped on lots of different things, so that has opened people’s minds and perspectives.”
Wortham explains that street art evolved from the late 1960s and early 1970s when a Greek American graffitist was active in New York City and using the “TAKI 183” tag, which became a kind of calling card and inspired other street artists leading up to Banksy and others. Wortham presents a variety of street art pieces in the gallery including some by local artists Skeith DeWine and his friend, Jeff Gillette.
Wortham notes that Banksy chose a painting by Gillette to feature on a poster for an exhibit called “Dismaland” in 2015. “I tell this story to most people who come in,” Wortham says.
The piece—which was on display in a Santa Monica gallery when it caught Banksy’s eye—featured Minnie Mouse on a tattered billboard. “[It] was the first of a series I’ve made of different Disney cartoon characters on a weathered billboard in similar post-apocalyptic settings,” Gillette says, adding that he’s been told Banksy hung this painting in his kitchen.
Red Room Art Gallery
Opened in March by artist Charles Pellicane and running in its north Laguna location through summer 2024, the Red Room Art Gallery includes an immersive, all-red room where special experiences are presented. “It is a radical take on the museum of the future,” Pellicane says.
This gallery allows visitors to literally step into a color and experience not only how this hue looks, but how it feels, smells, sounds and tastes. The longer that visitors remain inside this monochromatic, multisensory installation, the contrasts between the different shades of red begin to sharpen. Sounds and music associated with the color are played through speakers triggered by motion-sensing technology.
Pellicane was inspired by many artists and works throughout history, such as Henri Matisse’s 1908 painting “The Dessert: Harmony in Red (The Red Room),” Robert Therrien’s “Red Room” presented at the Tate museum in London from 2000 to 2007 and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s creation of immersive sensory experiences like the “Infinity Mirror Rooms” at The Broad in Los Angeles.
The Red Room Art Gallery in Laguna is open during the day on weekends for a more family-focused experience, when people may spend as much time in the Museum of Red as they would like. During the First Thursdays Art Walk, there’s a free, 11-minute, after-dark experience capped by a live, interactive performance by Pellicane. This after-dark experience, “Synesthesia: Rhapsody in Red,” is also offered in a more private setting on Saturday nights for $15 per person. The experience is always changing as more art is added. Meditation workshops and private parties are also hosted there.
The number of people allowed in the gallery at any one time is limited. While walk-ups are allowed, there may be a wait due to space; tickets may also be purchased ahead of time on the website.
Pop Art Masters Gallery
The name of this business—the Pop Art Masters Gallery—speaks for itself. Showcasing pop art masters that include Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, Takashi Murakami and many more, the unique gallery also boasts an international variety of pop art. Works by other well-known artists including Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Norman Rockwell are also presented at the gallery, which opened on South Coast Highway in June 2022.
“The owner, Robin Liu, is from China and … travels around the world collecting art from everywhere—from New York, from France, from China, from Taiwan, Italy, from everywhere in the world,” Dillow says.
With over 30 years of experience, Dillow has dedicated her life to managing and directing art galleries. She explains that the art exhibits change every month, but the gallery does not have events in the summer since that is the busiest time of the year for art sales.
“I am currently recruiting local artists because people do ask for local artists as well, so we include local art,” Dillow says. “We had a book signing last April that went very well and we will have an artist painting during his gallery opening next fall. We are very open to doing more events.”
Bill Mack Gallery
Right next door to the Pop Art Masters Gallery is the Bill Mack Gallery, which opened in March, joining the original location in Las Vegas. The gallery is named after Bill Mack, a relief sculptor who works primarily in “alto relief,” which his website explains, “originated in ancient temple friezes and marble sepulchers and is virtually nonexistent in galleries anywhere.”
Mack also creates drawings and paintings that appear almost three-dimensional. In 2007, he purchased the original Hollywood sign, which had been in storage, and has been using the sign’s metal facing as a canvas on which he paints the likeness of famous actors and actresses such as John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe. Less than 1% of these pieces remain available.
The gallery specializes in Mack’s artwork, and also stands out for its high relief artwork, Murano glass imported from Italy, crystal chandeliers from the Czech Republic, life-size sculptures for indoor or outdoor use and a unique selection of pop art plus pieces by up-and-coming artists. The gallery sells bronze sculptures, original paintings and limited edition prints by more than 30 different artists spread between the two gallery locations. Among them are kinetic artist Dale Mathis, who makes steampunk-looking clocks and furniture; Patrick Guyton, who creates modern and Asian-inspired silver and gold leaf paintings; Roy Tabora, who specializes in Hawaiian luminist oil paintings, a series of sunsets, waterfalls and moonlit beaches that appear to almost glow; rock-n-roll artist Ruby Mazur, who created graphics for more than 3,000 album covers including The Rolling Stones’ iconic mouth-and-tongue logo; and Bill Mack’s wife, Deb Mack, who creates surrealist Dalíesque sculptures.
Gallery at the Villa
An artist in Laguna Beach for more than 30 years, Suzanne Barber opened Gallery at The Villa in July 2022. She was the artist in residence at Montage Laguna Beach and taught art there for many years. She also represented 15 artists at a prominent Laguna gallery and has worked as a spa and wellness consultant, opening over 50 resort spas and teaching wellness classes including art therapy.
She had long wanted to open her own gallery, so when she noticed the pink building in north Laguna was available to lease, it seemed like the perfect spot.
“I turned it into what I call my design space,” Barber says. “I love doing custom commissioned work, so it is my design showroom. It has furniture that I pick out and place. [And] I do different types of abstracts, like abstract florals and bright colors—big paintings mixed in with different mediums like stucco and concrete. It is a place I love going to.”
Having her own design gallery in Laguna is a dream come true for Barber. Her gallery, filled with her own works—created with acrylics, often using her hands or a palette knife—and furniture vignettes, evokes a feeling of entering a warm and inviting living room.
“My intention is always to inspire and encourage viewers to thrive in their lives and be motivated by their living spaces,” Barber says. “I am open to displaying other artisans in the future, hence why I use the name Gallery at The Villa. But, for the moment, I want to focus on my art.”