Laguna Beach’s reputation as an art colony can be traced back to the early 20th century when talented landscape painters moved here from disparate parts of our country and from Europe. Yet the city of Irvine is today lapping at Laguna’s artistic heels with significant art venues including the Great Park Gallery, the Irvine Fine Arts Center, and the burgeoning Institute and Museum of California Art. While UC Irvine’s visual art department within the Claire Trevor School of the Arts has been making waves since its founding in 1965. And many working artists who live in Irvine exhibit their work throughout Orange County and beyond. With the start of summer, four of these artists are emerging from their studios and scenic environs to display their various art forms and creative approaches at Laguna Beach’s summerlong Festival of Arts (FOA), opening on July 5.

Working in photography, ceramics and oil paint, they embrace a variety of artistic approaches. Photographer Breck Rothage, a 20-year Irvine resident, specializes in images of the California coastline and its waves. He explains, “Irvine allows access to everything Orange County has to offer an artist, including the inspirational natural beauty of our beaches. And let’s not forget all of the wonderful art galleries nearby.” The 11-year Festival of Arts exhibitor adds, “It is an honor every time I exhibit there. I can still remember the excitement of my very first year. As we got our booths prepped, and everyone was unveiling their new works for the show, you had a deep sense of the community that FOA has created. Everyone there is incredibly supportive, and the wish is for everyone to really do well, and for our work to wow the public that comes out to experience it.

Photo by Baldemar Fierro

“I create my artwork purely in-camera, exclusively using artistic motion and light. For this technique to work, the ambient light and motion of the wave must come together with precision to bring out all the true colors of the seawater, the powerful motion of the wave, and the eloquent beauty of the sea spray as it wisps across the crest of the barrel. One of my new pieces for the Festival of the Arts focuses on a very specific color of aquamarine found in the top barrel of the California wave.”

Ceramicist and lifelong Californian Gary Monji has lived in Irvine for 20 years and exhibited at the FOA since 2009. “I have served my apprenticeship in teaching and been a practicing ceramicist for 56 years, starting in 1966 during the heyday of the ceramic era in California. And I have taught the craft for 40 years. After devoting my career teaching ceramics and design classes, I feel qualified to participate with the best artists. And ‘crystallization’ is a rare category in the world of art and its uniqueness is a great contribution to the FOA. (The crystals, which are planted and grown in the kiln during the final firing stages, produce iridescent and unpredictably radiant patterns.) I devote 100 percent of my artistic efforts during the year toward my exhibitions at the Festival of Arts.”

Painter Peggy Chang, born in Taipei, Taiwan and living in Irvine, creates dramatically expressive, colorful landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, portraits and her “Café Series.” Her landscapes and seascapes, drawing inspiration from traditional California landscape artists in locations, subject matter and technique, illustrate scenes from disparate places in our state and beyond. These include Laguna’s Heisler Park, the San Gabriel mountains and valleys, Monterey and the Grand Canyon. Her portraits of pensive girls and women recall the work of American artist Robert Henri. Her still lifes, most including flowers, burst with color and life. And her Café Scenes, depicting local and foreign cafés, evoke some of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh.

Photo by Baldemar Fierro

Photographer Hugh Foster specializes in portraiture, including close-ups of individuals and group scenes, with a strong emphasis on musicians, dancers, models and acrobats performing. Having lived and studied in the Pacific Northwest, in Los Angeles in the OC, his poignant depictions of mostly urban dwellers exploring the vicissitudes of life, depict as he explains “darkness and light, sadness and joy, sugar and salt.” His images further express the adage that art is a metaphor for life, that photos can explore humanity’s creative energy, along with our search for meaning and identity.

Behind the Festival of Arts’ inviting grounds, the 90-minute Pageant of the Masters is presented nightly under the stars in the Irvine Bowl. This summer’s production, “Wonderful World,” presents a variety of international artwork from disparate lands and cultural celebrations. The dramatic narrator of this summer’s (and of previous summers’) pageant production is Irvine resident Richard Doyle, profiled in the Irvine Weekly in 2019.

The Laguna Beach Festival of Arts hosts more than 100 artists, exhibiting more than 1,000 pieces of fine art, including paintings, sculpture, photography, printmaking, ceramics, glass, furniture and jewelry. The outdoor festival at 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach is open July 5 to September 2, Monday-Thursday, 4pm – 11:30pm, Friday-Sunday, 10am – 11:30pm. The Pageant of the Masters runs from July 7 through September 2, with all productions beginning at 8:30pm.

Backstage at the Pageant of the Masters (Photo by Christopher Allwine)

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