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Pico Artists At Work:

The Pico Improvement Association sponsored an event showcasing the many artists who call Pico Boulevard their headquarters. From the campus of Santa Monica High School between 4th and 7th Streets to the eastern border at Centinela, shops, studios, galleries and art schools opened their doors on October 15 to exhibit art and also to allow the public to see artists at work.

For this writer, the first experience (and a hard act to follow) was an exhibit by Samohi students at the school’s Roberts Gallery. One side of the room featured art in the calaveras tradition of Mexico’s Dia De Los Muertos. Many students depicted family members and celebrities as skeletons, in a manner more humorous and affectionate than grotesque. Connor Spearman’ s rendering of a skeletal Marilyn Monroe, in her iconic white billowing dress, was especially striking. At the other end of the gallery were paintings replicating traditional retablos (small paintings of saints) that expressed “thanks” to inspirations, human or otherwise. Notable among these were a black and white portrait of John Coltrane by Samantha Foster, a warm-toned and warm-hearted Mariah Carey by Adrienne Beitcher, and a gilded poster by Yeji Lee that proclaimed “Thank You For People Uglier Than Me.”

At Santa Monica College’s Art Department, visitors watched art students creating hand-blown glass works. The students dipped their blowing tubes in liquid glass, blew them into basic shapes, rolled them in ground colored glass or silver foil to add contrast, held them in the stone kilns known as “glory holes” which were fed by a central, roaring furnace and then rolled and cooled them on marble table tops. In an adjoining room, completed glass works such as vases and jewelry were offered for sale.

At Sixteen:One Gallery, Tina Eskillson’s show Ice Light and Shadow featured white canvases with faint grayish images of polar bears and other animals, as well as a “concept” installation in which an icicle was hung within a glass case. The icicle was gradually melting; the resulting water reflected the light in the room.

In Virginia Avenue Park, artists sold their work at tables under a tent. Kathryn Hewitt, who writes and illustrates children’s books, showed portraits of famous people – James Joyce, Mozart, Mississippi John Hurt – with somewhat enlarged heads. Similar drawings were on view in the pages of her books.

The lobby of the Morgan-Wixson Theatre is a gallery, and on display for this event were paintings by Ewa Mikucinska, – dark, moody abstracts with occasional touches of lighter, glimmering color.

At Lares, the popular Mexican restaurant, the paintings that adorn the adobe walls have always been a mystery. But as a participant in Pico Artists At Work, artist/owner Marta Lares revealed herself to be the talent behind these paintings. As she worked on a canvas in the restaurant’s upper room, Lares confessed that she had always been “shy” about openly identifying herself as an artist. But her paintings, with their bold use of color and their Mexican themes, are far from shy. Lares says her personal favorite is her “Virgin,” a rendering of the Virgin Mary with her eyes closed, in a state of bliss.

Since this was a first-time event, there were a few kinks – some advertised venues were not open, and the promised shuttle buses providing free transportation up and down Pico only ran every half hour. But as more and more people joined the walk, it looked like this is going to be an annual event. Pico Boulevard may not look exciting, but the art is there, if you look.

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