Two local artists employ a variety of materials and techniques to highlight nature, politics and the passing of time.
By Jennifer Pappas Yennie
Jack of All Trades
Jesse Miller is something of a fine arts Renaissance man, skilled at woodworking, painting, glasswork, screenprinting, crafting furniture, graphic design and more. He even builds his own canvases with copper nails—an old-school technique—instead of using staples.
A longtime Laguna Beach resident and Sawdust Art Festival exhibitor since 2008, Miller grew up in a woodworking shop, so that’s where his background lies. However, he has always gravitated toward drawing and painting, and learned to create leaded glass (also known as stained glass) from his godfather just after high school.
“Once I learned the ways of the glass, it just felt natural to combine wood, glass and painting,” Miller says. “I’m really just a product of my environment. Had I grown up in a metal shop, I would probably be doing very different types of art.”
Looking through Miller’s body of work, it is clear he draws most of his inspiration from nature—“the ocean, mountains, outer space and the connectedness of all things, big and small.” And while it’s not unusual to see mixed media artists combining wood, glass and paint, Miller upends viewers’ expectations with crafty manipulation of form and space. Some compositions sit askew in their fractured frames, as if uncomfortable with borders. Others bend, spill or descend from their custom frameworks, morphing seamlessly from one medium to another. Like the natural world they mimic, the pieces defy categorization.
“My frames are aesthetic for the most part,” Miller explains, “but I have built pieces that tie in the boundless wonder and design of nature, as well as mankind’s blinding entitlement and arrogance when it comes to living in balance with that nature. Also, rather than a frame shop deciding how to frame and finish off my work, I prefer to create the piece from start to finish. If I’m working intensely on a piece for weeks, I don’t want to turn it over to someone else to get it across the finish line.”
Miller’s process for creating these works varies, but most of the time it starts with a sketch, which is then transferred to full-size butcher paper. “Laying out the piece full size allows me to control how the three different mediums blend together, in addition to giving me a sense of scale and overall balance,” he explains.
Next, he builds and stretches the canvas, and roughly draws in the underpainting, setting the mood. Then, he lays out and builds the leaded glass panels. When that’s done, he configures the frame and finishes up the painting. “I build each part separately—… the canvas, glass panel and wood elements—and by having a full-size pattern to go off, it helps to ensure that it all goes together as it should in the end.”
It sounds simple enough, but even a quick meander through Miller’s pieces leaves one in awe of the vision and technique required to create such dynamic compositions. Find his work at Momeh Boutique at The Hive or at the Sawdust festival.
The first thing you notice about the work of Isaac Anderson is the texture—there is a lot of it. His interior/exterior, mixed media works combine photography, paint and time-tested “recipes” of texture that he often derives from plaster, concrete, geopolymer, fly ash, organic fibers and embedded pigments. He’s even been known to incorporate beach tar into some of his custom mixtures, which he keeps in canisters underneath the large outdoor workstation he built in his north Laguna art studio.
There is a spontaneous feel to Anderson’s mixed media pieces, but his technique is often very calculated. For example, the geopolymer blend he concocted took “three years of experimentation and a few thousand samples to get it to the point where it will now burn up a drill bit trying to drill through it,” he says. So, if he wishes to work with something harder than concrete, this is his go-to mixture.
There are other things Anderson can control, like how fast something will set and if he wants the piece to crack or not. “It’s a little high-tech in a low-tech kind of way,” he explains, noting the ambiguity of such a statement before comparing the technique to that of the exterior limestone blocks used to construct Egypt’s great pyramids, which were formed in place. In other words, the technology has been around for ages; he’s simply tapping into it in new and unexpected ways while playing off of the natural landscapes that dominate his everyday life.
And while Anderson points to his many years spent traveling along with work for relief organizations—to places like Myanmar, Kosovo, Cuba and Pompeii—for his fascination with texture, he’s no one-trick pony. He dabbles in sculpture, political broadsides (for example, the Shepard Fairey-inspired Soap poster based on the pandemic), large-scale home decor and documentary filmmaking.
“This year’s been a good one in terms of growth using new materials and trying to hone certain skills, but then also preserving creativity,” Anderson says. “I’m always looking for something new, some fresh idea, but then I’m always getting pulled back into this representational, landscape-type theme. I war against that a little bit.”
Look for his work at Sawdust’s summer show or at Nuance Home & Lifestyle Boutique on Forest Avenue.
Interactive art classes are one of the most popular parts of Sawdust Art Festival’s shows, giving locals and visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the creative world rather than simply view it. With delays and closures due to COVID-19 plaguing the festival’s attempts over the last year, organizers recently turned to the virtual realm, adding prerecorded lessons as well as an upcoming live Zoom class. Currently, art enthusiasts can learn how to paint an impressionist Laguna Canyon morning scene with John Eagle or create a mixed media monster with Nansea Williams; Sawdust also plans to add an oil painting of the Main Beach coastline from artist Walter Viszolay. An upcoming Zoom session with Maryam Rouhi will offer instructions on crafting a “woman in bloom” with oil paint. While art supplies and tools are not provided, they are detailed on page for each class, which cost $20 for prerecorded options and $45 for the upcoming Zoom lesson. (sawdustartfestival.org) —Ashley Ryan
Part of the Process
Metaphorical realism painter Vladimir Kush, who owns a gallery downtown, launched a new initiative in February that gives art collectors the chance to observe the artistic process. As part of the Pre-Published Originals program, Kush creates concept sketches that clients can then purchase; the package includes an oil painting based on the original sketch as well as a possible watercolor created before the final piece. In addition, the artist’s father, Oleg Kush, creates a creative description or story based on the artwork as well as the vision and process behind it. Clients are sent photos and videos along the way, showcasing various steps between the white canvas and the final layers of the painting. Aside from the original pieces, packages may include additional gifts, such as limited-edition giclees, an original drawing or a bronze sculpture as well. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. (kushfineart.com) —A.R.
Artist Eye Gallery
Stop by to see new works hanging in the gallery at Artist Eye. Added in April, you’ll find stunning mixed media pieces, including coastal aerial views, recycled surfboard art and ocean-inspired giclees by Carolyn Johnson as well as wildlife-themed pieces by Marie Lavallee. (949-497-5898; artisteyegallerylaguna.com)
coastal eddy, a gallery
An ongoing installation called “Shards in Memoriam” is shining a light on the lives lost during the pandemic, allowing guests to take part in the interactive exhibit by writing the names of loved ones who have passed away from COVID-19 on one of the shards of pottery that make up the display. (949-715-4113; coastaleddyagallery.com)
Artists that are 55 and older are celebrated in “A Recipe for Artistic Dynamite,” a virtual show that runs through May 18. Viewers can enjoy classic mediums such as oil and acrylic paintings or photography in addition to more unique items like coiled clay ceramics and blown glass chandeliers. In addition to viewing the artwork, learn about the creators as well. (949-715-8106; galleryq.org)
JoAnne Artman Gallery
The history and significance of various florals is explored in the online exclusive “Garden Party,” interpreted and reimagined by artists including America Martin, Anna Kincaide, Mary Finlayson and Michael Callas. Each of the four brings something different to the table, whether it be still lifes or narrative artwork. (949-510-5481; joanneartmangallery.com)
Laguna Beach Beer Co.
Stop by the alehouse to check out aerial photographs and paintings of Laguna Beach crafted by local Chris Wong. With at least seven pieces already on display, and more to come, there is no current end date for this display, which highlights the beauty of our town. (chriswongphotography.mypixieset.com)
Laguna Beach City Hall
Curated by The Artists Fund at Festival of Arts, “Spring Collection” will feature pieces from board members, including Hugo Rivera, Rick Graves and more, as well as past and present festival exhibitors. An appointment is required to view the show, which will be at City Hall through June 22; an online version is also available. (949-612-1949; theartistsfund-foa.org)
Laguna Plein Air Painters Association
Through May 9, head to the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association website to enjoy “Waterworks,” a juried show featuring pieces created with transparent watercolor paint. The finalists, all of which are LPAPA artists, will be showcasing works during the online show, with many being auctioned off after winners are announced. (949-376-3635; lpapa.org)
Las Laguna Art Gallery
In another of Las Laguna Gallery’s themed shows, artists who create in a variety of different mediums will present abstract paintings online through May 29 . Then, from June 3-26, the “Painterly” show will display any and all styles of paintings, from oil and acrylic to watercolor (both in the gallery and online). (949-505-0950; laslagunagallery.com)
Pacific Edge Gallery
Three of Laguna’s finest artists will show their work together for the first time. From May 15 through the end of June, explore new artwork by Jacobus Baas, who co-founded the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, and Bryan Mark Taylor, who has previously won the group’s invitational; pieces from Festival of Arts creative Pil Ho Lee will be on display as well. (949-494-0491; pacificedgegallery.com)
Vanessa Rothe Fine Art
From now through the end of May, a visit to the quaint but picturesque Vanessa Rothe Fine Art gallery will give you a chance to view the spring collection, “Realism Without Borders.” This annual exhibition offers a look at works from around the globe, crafted by those who paint with similar styles and inspire one another. Artists include those of American, Russian, Norwegian, German, Chinese, Icelandic, French, Canadian and Ukrainian descent. (949-280-1555; vanessarothefineart.com)