Meet Two of Laguna’s New Local Artists

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A Gallery of her Own

Featuring brightly colored oil paintings inspired by impressionism and expressionism, Virga Gallery on North Coast Highway is the most recent creative endeavor of artist Virga Siauciunaite. The venue is also the latest step in the Lithuanian native’s journey from child artist to gallery owner, an awe-inspiring story of talent, drive and determination.

Virga began drawing the moment she started crawling, entering a prestigious children’s art school in Lithuania at age 11 and exhibiting her own works soon after that. She went on to earn her Master of Fine Arts from the Vilnius Art Academy, and the accolades that followed included an art professorship at Šiauliai University at age 26. But when the fall of communism brought a concurrent freedom to travel, Virga felt the desire to travel to the U.S. In 1990, she nourished that impulse and moved to Los Angeles with her 10-year-old daughter, Agnia Grigas, working a variety of jobs while speaking very little English. In her spare time, Virga painted canvasses and soon landed a position designing textiles. The financial freedom allowed her to start showing her work in museums and galleries all over the southland, including Laguna Beach.

But Virga always had a dream: to have one location to show her art. During her many trips to Laguna, she developed a love for the city and early this year decided to combine her two passions into one. She opened her own gallery in Laguna, a city she calls a “mecca for art,” across from Main Beach at the “perfect location”—a historical building with an ocean view.

She moved into the former Gallery McCollum space in February, hanging several dozen favorite paintings before the grand opening on May 15. Some of her boldly expressive, figurative works feature dancers; others are portraits and landscapes. Virga feels that her one-of-a-kind pieces will attract viewers to her gallery, while also expanding Laguna’s range of artistic styles.


Passion for Pottery

Though Greg Riley has been a fixture in Laguna Beach for 35 years—exhibiting his multifired, rough-surfaced ceramic vessels at the Festival of Arts each summer—his home has been in San Clemente. But last year, he found an incentive to move to Laguna that proved to be irresistibly greater than the allure of the seaside city further south: love, for fellow festival exhibitor, goldsmith Linda Potichke.

Having exhibited in nearby booths at the festival, the couple has known each other for years, often engaging in cordial conversations throughout the fine art show (Linda is a 28-year exhibitor). During the summer of 2012, however, their dialogue became more meaningful, and they discovered several common interests: cooking, travel, love of the theater and a passion for humanity. Late last fall, Greg moved into Linda’s Laguna home and their shared love of art and the city helps provide the glue and balance to make their relationship work.

While Greg admits that competition among artists in Laguna can be intense, the cultural heritage and nature of the city—as well as its many opportunities to observe art—make it an inspiring place to foster creativity. Living and working here has given him the motivation and an increased amount of mental energy to concentrate on his complex and labor-intensive ceramic vessels, which result from a “volatile technique that requires patience and a willingness to take risks,” he says.

From lidded vessels and open-and-closed containers to large tile and fine art sculptures, Greg’s ceramics require investigation of architectural and natural interests and are not grounded in one specific place and time, he explains. Several of these ceramic sculptures—combining Asian ceramic and contemporary art design—are now displayed throughout his new Laguna home, where their one-of-a-kind aspects both complement and dovetail with the gorgeous ocean view.

– Written by Liz Goldner

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