A Candid Interview
With Malcolm Warner
byDaniella B. Walsh
With the Laguna Art Museum
celebrating its 100th birthday
this year, director Malcolm Warner
shared a few thoughts with Arts&Minds
about his role in shaping the museum
for the last seven years, as well as offering
insight into the passion for art that inspires him.
A&M What special events, exhibitions, celebrations is the museum planning to celebrate its centennial?
M.W We have a full slate of celebratory events planned. It’s one every month for the next six month--a documentary film on the history and present activities of the museum (premiere screening April 19); a new, lavishly illustrated book by me, Laguna Art Museum: A Centennial History, 1918-2018, to be launched with a talk and book-signing (May 31); a major exhibition on the early years of the Laguna Beach Art Association (opens June 24); a centennial documentary exhibition at John Wayne Airport (opens July 19); a 100th birthday party for the LBAA with family activities and more (August 25); and our big Centennial Ball on the grounds of the Festival of Arts (September 29).
There will also be tributes to the LBAA and the early artists of Laguna Beach in this summer’s Pageant of the Masters.
A&M. How did you and museum staff come up with ideas? Where there any special challenges?
M.W When we started to plan the program, we brainstormed among ourselves and with our wonderful Centennial Executive Committee who have been a godsend in helping us prepare for all these special events.
You asked about challenges: Well, in a year when we’re also remodeling the whole lower level of the museum building—thanks to a grant from the City—there’s certainly a considerable amount of added strain on the staff. It’s a challenge we can meet, but we’ve been aware of the danger of biting off more than we can chew. That’s one of the reasons why we carefully spaced out the various events through the year.
A&M What inspired you to come to Laguna Beach besides its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding beauty?
M.W The position of director of the museum appealed to me for a number of reasons. I’d been a museum curator for my whole career, and I wanted to try my hand at directing without entirely giving up curating which is more possible in a fairly small institution like Laguna Art Museum.
I liked not only the scale of the museum but also the great layout and variety of the gallery spaces. It’s half the battle if you have spaces that lend themselves well to what you want to do.
The museum was also blessed with an excellent board of trustees and an outstanding board chair in Robert Hayden III. The director-board relationship is a key element in a successfully run museum, and most directors would kill to work with a board chair of Robert’s level of sophistication and judgement.
A&M Your credentials are such that you could have gone anywhere in the nation. I heard somewhere that even the National Gallery in DC had its nets out for you. Any truth to that?
M.W I’d been a curator and deputy director at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth for 10 years. I was looking for a change, and discussed possibilities at a number of museums across the country before getting serious about coming to Laguna.
A&M Now that you are settled at the museum and your new home in our city, what is your favorite aspect of museum leadership? Outreach, curation, education?
M.W There’s nothing about it that I really dislike. But if pressed, I’d have to admit that my favorite thing is putting on exhibitions—the challenge of choosing good ones, the creativity involved in shaping and presenting them well, the excitement of opening them and waiting hopefully for a good public response and good reviews.
A&M What are your favorite things to do in the city?
M.W One of my favorite things is spending time with the friends that Sara (my wife) and I have made here, most of whom are in the arts in one way or another.
The everyday closeness to nature is another wonderful thing about Laguna. Within five minutes from our house, we can be running, walking, and enjoying spectacular views in the hills. Even my bus ride to work and back would be regarded in most places as a fabulous scenic tour.
A&M What are your favorite places in Southern California and beyond, places, museums, art venues, even galleries, and why?
M.W We lived in San Diego for a few years when I was working at the San Diego Museum of Art and I’m still fond of Balboa Park particularly. As you might expect, we visit the art museums in Los Angeles pretty regularly.
My next favorite places to visit lately are the cemeteries—Forest Lawn, Hollywood Forever, etc. Maybe it’s the influence of some very funny books about American cemeteries and funerals that I read long before moving here--Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One and Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death. The art and architecture you find in these places are fascinating—one way or another--and who could resist the thrill of coming across the final resting place of a beloved movie star?
A&M What are your favorite works of art at LAM?
M.W I began my career as a curator of prints and drawings, and prints have remained a particular interest of mine. So our fantastic Wayne Thiebaud prints are certainly among my favorites. The painting that I’ve been hanging in my office when we’re not showing it in the galleries is a large aerial nighttime view near LAX by Peter Alexander. That’s a favorite too.
A&M What have been your favorite LAM shows?
M.W Among the shows we’ve done in recent years, the ones I regard most fondly have all been retrospectives of highly original California artists who ought to be better known nationally than they are. It’s a pleasure to feel that we’re fulfilling our mission to raise awareness of the achievements of California artists. For that reason I’m especially proud of our Helen Lundeberg and Peter Krasnow exhibitions, as well as our current Tony DeLap retrospective.
A&M How do you see LAM’s role in the future? Will its current quarters suffice for its (presumably) expanding role?
M.W The museum is a showcase for California art and at the same time a cultural center for the Laguna Beach community. Into the future I hope it keeps that same balance while presenting exhibitions and programs on a higher and higher level of quality. Thanks to our grant from the City, we’re already making big improvements to the building and I hope that process will continue—the look and feel of a museum building is such an important part of the experience for visitors. I’m pretty sure that we’ll remain a relatively small, “boutique” museum, prioritizing quality over size, and that we won’t need to expand physically. If someone offers us $100 million to build a brand new, state-of-the-art facility, however, I’m sure we’d be happy to talk.
A&M What is your vision for the museum’s cooperation/collaboration with other local arts organizations?
M.W We thrive on collaboration, and benefit enormously from working with Laguna Beach Live!, with the Laguna College of Art + Design, and with the Laguna Dance Festival, among others. We’re also doing more and more with UC Irvine, a relationship that took on special importance for us recently when UCI acquired the important Buck Collection of California art.
A&M What characteristic of your favorite museum/places would you like to see transferred or find a resemblance to in Laguna Beach?
M.W Each of my previous museums—the Yale Center for British Art and the Kimbell Art Museum—was part of a much larger cultural and academic community. There were any number of professionals from other museums to meet and exchange ideas with, as well as art history professors doing interesting research. No one could reasonably expect all that in a small town like Laguna Beach, but I miss it all the same.
A&M I understand that you play the guitar. What kind of music do you favor and who are your favorite composers?
M.W My role model as a guitarist is Django Reinhardt’s less talented brother, Joseph, who did the basic strumming while Django did the pyrotechnics. Though not even nearly on Joseph’s level, I can strum my way through jazz standards and pop music. That’s my limit, but I still love it—and it greatly enhances your enjoyment of music if you at least try to play something.
I get pleasure out of almost every kind of music, although my son, Charlie, would say I have an unfortunate blind spot (or deaf spot) when it comes to hip-hop.
Lately I’ve listened to Schubert symphonies, the Sons of the Pioneers, the Meters, and David Byrne. Is that eclectic enough for you?
When we did our California Mexicana exhibition at the museum I discovered the music of Elisabeth Waldo, whose Land of Golden Dreams is a delightful musical history of California. My favorite composers? It’s not too original a choice, but it would be the great ones—Bach, Mozart, Beethoven. If only to be a bit less obvious, I might throw in Berlioz too.
A&M How do you feel about dance? Theater? London is a, if not the, theater capital of the world. Do you have favorite plays, authors?
M.W I enjoy dance, although it has never been a great passion. The plays I enjoy most are the classics, especially Shakespeare. With great theaters like A Noise Within in Pasadena, the New Swan at UCI, and the Old Globe in San Diego, we have access to terrific Shakespeare productions. Recently Sara and I saw Henry V at A Noise Within, for instance.
A&M What book(s) are you currently reading?
M.W Usually I get Sara to read the books and tell me what they are about. I’m so slow. The books I’m reading right now have been by my bedside for weeks. They’re both about math—How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg, and a study of statistics applied to soccer, The Numbers Game.
A&M Given your choices, are you comfortable in the ever expandable digital realm? What is the museum’s role in a digital age?
M.W The more people attune themselves to getting information and entertainment from images, the more they ought to appreciate the visual arts, right? We just have to get them off their screens and make them aware of the pleasure and feeling you get in the presence of actual, unique objects that were hand-made by great artists.
A&M And, finally, if you were not at the helm of LAM, what else would you like to do?
M.W It would be a dream come true to be involved in some way in making films. On a more pedestrian level, I really ought to finish a book that I’ve been writing for more years than I care to mention. It’s on the British artist John Everett Millais, who was the subject of my Ph.D. dissertation.
Leo Tolstoy “What is Art?”
Commentary by William J. Havlicek Phd
Tolstoy’s understanding of the essential purposes
of art was first articulated by Aristotle and over the
centuries by John Dewey, Hegel and other great
thinkers — namely that art allows for the
communication of emotion and essential human
experience which creates and solidifies human culture.
A key passage at the end of Tolstoy’s essay underscores his concern that we see art as a daily activity not limited only to museums, theaters and galleries:
“We are accustomed to understand art to be only what we hear and see in theaters, concerts, and exhibitions, etc. . . . but all this is but the smallest part of the art by which we communicate with each other in life. All human life is filled with works of art of every kind—from cradlesongs, jest, mimicry, the ornamentation of houses, dress and utensils, up to church services, buildings, monuments, and triumphal processions. It is all artistic activity. So that by art, in the limited sense of the word, we do not mean all human activity transmitting feelings, but only that part which we for some reason select from it and to which we attach special importance. This special importance has always been given by all men to that part of this activity which transmits feelings flowing from their religious perception, and this small part of art they have called art, attaching to it the full meaning of the word”.
Tolstoy’s focus on heartfelt communication was also the theme of the English writer J. R.R. Tolkien who in Lord of the Rings Trilogy created his own language—namely Elvish—and used his writings to celebrate the existence of Hobbits, Elves and other mythical beings. Tolstoy and Tolkien shared a reverence for all cultural life and believed that art was best understood as the deepest binding element between individuals, promoting compassion, understanding, courage and other positive behaviors which enrich and clarify all aspects of human existence. Tolstoy and Tolkien were deeply spiritual men who shared a belief in God and the sacredness of life.
Tolstoy used the word: infect, infected, infection in his famous essay “What is Art” and turned to this unusual word to describe the activity of art. By using this metaphor, Tolstoy helped his readers realize that the arts work like a beneficent virus that heals rather than harms—as it spreads its unifying powers over our daily lives.
Curator of Education
Brings Art Appreciation
to the Next Generations.
by Daniella B. Walsh
Film Maker Dale Schierholt
Captures the Spirit of Artists,
Art and the Places They Dwell.
byDaniella B. Walsh
Tony DeLap, Billy Al Bengston, Charles Arnoldi, Will Barnet, Louise Nevelson, Cabot Lyford, photographer Joyce Tenneson and Chinese artist/activist Ai WeiWei have opened their studios as well as their minds and hearts to documentary film maker Dale Schierholt.
Eschewing laborious research before filming, he allows narratives to unfold naturally. “I listen and learn and might find something that no one knows,” he said.
He works alone and avoids the trappings of traditional film making— lights, action, large crews and accompanying egos— deploying instead his unique knack for bringing out the raconteur in his subjects.
He says that his approach to film making is organic and does not employ story boarding. “I don’t do interviews, I engage people in conversation,” says Schierholt. “I get a certain intimacy with my subjects if there are no crews.”
In a different vein, he documented the rich history of Grace Church, a Jamaica, NY-based spiritual community dating back to 1702 and has led viewers through a sleepy morning Greenwich Village bereft of tourists and revelers.
A former resident of Maine, he has documented the iconic Farnsworth Museum, located in Rockland, Me. A showcase of American art, it also houses the Wyeth Center dedicated to Andrew, M.C. and Jamie Wyeth. It is here in Rockland that he also filmed Nevelson, a native of the city.
It’s perhaps the Farnsworth project that prompted the Laguna Art Museum to commission Schierholt to produce “Laguna Art Museum: 100 years of Artistic Legacy,” a film about the museum’s history in honor of its 100th birthday.
Interspersing archival photographs and film footage with his own videography, he structures the film into narrative thirds. “Films evolve organically. I have a general idea what the story is, the way the story emerges is organic,” said Schierholt. “Discovery in the editing room is also important and part of the creative process.”
In the first segment, he traces the museum’s history from its beginnings as the Laguna Beach Art Association founded in 1818 and presided over by, among others, Edgar Payne and Anna Hills who distinguished herself as a driving force in the nascent Laguna Beach community—Here, Anna gets her full due. “It was an exciting time to show her as a centerpiece of the film,” said Schierholt.
The second part focuses on LAM’s role in the community of Laguna Beach. Through conversations with past and present members of the board of trustees including Robert Hayden III and current president Louis Rohl, former museum director G. Ray Kerciu, local historian Eric Jessen and art educator Mike McGee among others, viewers learn about the museum’s growth and growing pains—most notably the ill-conceived 1996 merger with the Newport Harbor Art Museum, now the Orange County Museum of Art.
Recalling countless meetings at his home with concerned community members, Kerciu said: “We decided to do anything to get the museum back. We made so much noise in the community and we were so organized against losing our museum, we were ablate rethink what they had done and able to get the museum back.”
The third part deals with the museum’s relationship with artists such as DeLap, collectors and, significantly, its growing education program led by education curator Marinta Skupin.
Warner offers a glimpse behind the scenes and the museum’s inner workings while rummaging happily through the museum vaults and its permanent collection.
How then did Schierholt morph from, by his own description, not very good illustrator to documentary film maker?
He received a degree in fine art but found himself ill-equipped for the “real world.” Born and raised in Hamilton, OH, one of his first gigs was as art director at a local newspaper, the Journal-News. His job description also involved reviewing films and consequently sharpened his appreciation of good film making.
He recalls making his first 8mm film around 1978, and teaching himself black and white still photography. Eventually, he started his own graphic design business and bought his first digital video camera. “I found creative outlet as a video editor and made a living making short films,” he said.
Around 2001, he moved to Maine where he went into full-time film making.
Now based in Dana Point, he is still a one-man band. “Here in California I also had to take on fund raising responsibilities,” he explained. Currently he is trying to raise funds for his, as of yet unfinished, documentary on Light and Space artist Peter Alexander.
“The challenge here is getting people’s heads around how I work. I work more like an artist who makes digital films; I was trained as an artist rather than a traditional film maker,” he said.
Schierholt deftly sums up his artistic philosophy and the ensuing success of his films thus: “I don’t present a point of view of my own, there’s enough propaganda out there. My role is to create an environment that allows my subjects to communicate directly with the viewer, to present his or her ideas and then to let the audience decide how they feel about it. I work alone for several reasons, first and foremost is the creation of that intimacy. Additionally, my personal creative history has followed several paths, from designer to director, photographer to writer, and creating these films allows me to draw from it all."
"Triple Trouble II"
"Tango Tangles III"
photo: James Cant
As the Laguna Art Museum is celebrating
its 100th year, let’s examine its success in
bringing art to the community, particularly
local children through its comprehensive
education goals. Those include docent
programs and hands-on event allowing children,
their families and their teachers learn by observing,
listening and, above all, doing, all under the leadership
of Marinta Skupin, the museum’s curator of education.
Hired in 2012, Skupin had been tasked with further widening artistic horizons among Laguna Beach educators and the community at large.
She came well prepared: Her resumé includes coordinating education programs at the New Orleans Museum of Art, management of the K-12 and family programs at the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans and directing educational programs at the San Diego History Center.
At LAM she oversees all school and public programs, including the widely acclaimed annual Art&Nature festival.
Skupin was born in South Africa where she became immersed in the arts by studying piano at the University of Stellenbosch. She also earned a Bachelor of Arts in fine arts and a master’s degree in arts administration at the University of New Orleans.
Recently, she illuminated for “Arts&Minds” writer Daniella Walsh her goals for LAM and the journey that brought her here:
A&M You have been the Laguna Art Museum’s curator of education now for six years. What attracted you to our community after exciting, culturally diverse places like New Orleans?
M.S The combination of its spectacular setting, its deep-seated identification with visual art and its intimate scale while being within easy reach of Los Angeles were some of the things that made Laguna Beach very attractive to me from the outside.
Once I got to know more about the museum and the then new director, Malcolm Warner, I realized what a tremendously exciting time this was for the museum.
With its focus on California art, Dr. Warner’s vision for excellence and its important role as an educational and cultural resource for the community, I could not think of a more worthy star to which to hitch my wagon.
A&M When you first started your new job, what was your first impression of LAM and the community? What was your greatest challenge and how did you master it?
M.S I was impressed by how receptive to art the community was; there was no need for me to convince people of the value of visual arts. There was so much potential everywhere I looked that first challenge was to remain patient and not try to do it all at once.
I’m not always sure I mastered it but, I have been very fortunate to have colleagues who share my passion and have been expertly catching the balls that I drop—I work with a truly remarkable team in the education department.
A&M Do you have any specific anecdotes from the job that you would like to share? Teachable moments?
M.S One thing our docents frequently comment on is how much they learn about the art on view from our visitors’ observations. I cherish the idea of the museum as a learning community where we constantly exchange ideas and learn from each other.
A&M Meanwhile you have instituted innovations and new programs for the museum. Please tell us about those.
M.S Even though the credit for these programs certainly does not belong to me alone, here are some of the programs we have instituted: The monthly Family Art Studio at the museum and also at the Boys&Girls Club in Santa Ana; the annual Art&Nature Festival; a newly piloted STEAM program in collaboration with the Ocean Institute; special exhibition openings for teachers (“Evening for Educators”); monthly film screenings and music concerts in partnership with Laguna Beach Live and also monthly art-related talks including a series called “Inside the Museum” in which Dr. Warner interviews other museum directors or prominent museum professionals.
A&M What is the museum’s yearly budget for education?
M.S The total operating budget for education is approximately $300,000.
A&M Please tell us about community reactions; are there any groups of individuals that have been particularly helpful?
M.S We had fruitful collaborations with so many local organizations, both arts-related like Laguna Beach Live, the Laguna Dance Festival, the Pacific Symphony and numerous galleries in town, and nature-oriented ones like the Laguna Ocean Foundation, the Laguna Canyon Foundation, the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition and the Ocean Institute in Dana Point. We have also collaborated closely with the city government of Laguna Beach, the Laguna Beach Unified School District, UC Irvine, the Laguna College of Art and Design and the Boys and Girls Club both here and in Santa Ana.
Members of the Arts Council have been a great support for the education department by underwriting free admission to our annual Imagination Celebration, assisting in presentation of art studios and family festivals and, supplying the front desk with fresh orchids.
A&M Does the museum’s docent program function independently or does it dovetail into the education department?
M.S Yes, the docent program is an integral part of our education department. We have 31 excellent docents, and they are the ones who enhance our visitors’ experience on a daily basis by engaging all ages—from pre-schoolers to retirees—through interactive tours through the museum. I am always humbled and inspired by the quality of work that our docents do on a strictly voluntary basis.
A&M. What do you think should be done in this community (and greater Orange County) to improve arts education in schools and in the home?
M.S. One way would be to foster a community of museum visitors! To create a museum environment that is welcoming and that offers enriching experiences to visitors of all ages and backgrounds and to keep reaching new audiences: Perhaps a child who comes as part of a school visit will bring family back here or, perhaps a music lover might come for a concert and become intrigued by the art of view…
A&M. What do you consider obstacles to bringing the arts to the next generations?
M.S The multitude of offerings and platforms with which we have to compete. That and school budgets. When those are cut, usually the first thing to go are the arts.
A&M Can you offer an example of how art can be effectively incorporated into school curricula?
M.S For example, we started a new collaboration with the Ocean Institute where kids meet sea creatures by putting their hands into tanks and feel the texture of, say, a starfish. Then they learn about the texture of starfish, how to recreate it in their minds and how an artist would create an illusion of that texture. Or, in the jellyfish project, they learn how artists create translucency and, by drawing their own picture of a jellyfish understand biology better. Such field trips are a great way to get art into school curriculi.
A&M What are your future plans for expanding educational programs at LAM?
M.S In addition to strengthening and growing programs, I’d like to involve teenagers and have them help us develop exciting programs for them and their peers. I also think there is tremendous potential in continuing to explore programs combining art and nature.
A&M Last but not least: You studied music in South Africa. What brought you to the visual arts and what parallels do you see between the disciplines?
M.S Visual art has always been my first love and, even though I started off in music, I think I always knew I’d end up working in the visual arts. All the arts have a transcendent quality that puts life in a broader perspective and that speaks to us in a way that cannot always be explained rationally. I believe that this transcendent perspective is not a luxury but is a necessary component of the human condition.
Freelance writer Lori Basheda contributed reporting to this article.
The Magic of Tony DeLap Endures Over Time
byDaniella B. Walsh
During the late 1960s and early 70s a cadre of young artists migrated from their accustomed urban warrens into bucolic Orange County to help launch the studio
art department of a fledgling UC Irvine. This was a time when citrus trees still outnumbered students. Among those nouveau pioneers was San Francisco artist
Tony DeLap, a sculptor, painter and prolific innovator who fell in love with the place and its possibilities and stayed.
Since about 1975, DeLap has evolved into one of Orange County's most renowned and enduring artists and educators. He has been nationally and internationally exhibited, his resumé has become a tome, and accolades keep mounting.
In 2000, the Orange County Museum of Art staged a major retrospective exhibit showcasing DeLap's work including drawings, a few paintings, sculptures and varied examples of commissioned public art. In 2011, the Laguna Art Museum staged “Best Kept Secret: UCI and the Development in Contemporary Art in Southern California, 1964-1971, curated by the talented, alas now departed, LAM curator Grace Kook- Anderson. The show illuminated DeLap’s pivotal role in the bourgeoning, albeit hidden amongst focus on Orange groves and right-wing crackpots, fantastic art scene. All that thanks to art critic John Coplans, the first director of UCI’s fledgling art department. It was Coplans who first discovered DeLap in San Francisco and who recruited him to teach at UCI.
From then on, DeLap was at the forefront of creative change along with John McCracken, Robert Irvin, Frank Stella and David Hockney (a member of the "British New Wave,") and others who were determined to break out of critically sanctioned molds. By DeLap's account, Coplans staged cutting edge shows on a par with anything seen in L.A or New York.
"The school was an active and exciting environment considering how few students we had back then," he said. "There was a high level of intellectual energy due to the department being founded by some dynamic newcomers--UCLA was a hotbed of old fogies by comparison. There was no other school then that was as open and free as we were."
Ceramicist John Mason worked with DeLap then and has been a friend since. "Tony has always had a clarity of vision that translated itself into his art and into his capacity to structure (teaching) programs, He encouraged development and attracted top-notch students," he said. "Tony has a real history--besides, how many artists are also into magic?"
Tom Dowling a local painter and art gallery designer took post-graduate classes from DeLap. "Tony is one of the main reasons why I came to UCI," he said. Dowling thinks of DeLap as a Minimalist but also one of the seminal Post Modernists. "His hybrids of painting and sculpture represent a very eccentric Minimalism. Yet Tony is also an exemplary colorist and his references to magic and illusion give his work outstanding depth." He echoed other artists and critics when he likened DeLap's work to poetry. "When you look at Tony's work it's like passages of poetry--they sing to you."
Painter Gary Szymanski studied with DeLap in the late 80s and credits his mentor for his own success as a teacher. "Tony did not tell us what to paint or what colors to use. When we got into a rut, he told us to change our lives," he said.
DeLap was born in 1927 in Oakland. He began to draw at age 9 when he copied characters and vignettes from comic books but was an otherwise indifferent student. "Drawing, model-making, magic--everything I was interested in had no future," he laughingly recalled. His higher education was correspondingly spotty. He studied at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco where he earned an associate degree and skipped further undergraduate work to attend Claremont graduate school for 18 months without graduating. He also spent a summer studying at Pomona College with Millard Sheets, a California Regionalist whom DeLap describes as a zippy Winslow Homer.
Ultimately, his first alma mater awarded him an honorary doctorate. "I felt very flattered. I'm probably the only one who went from no degree to a bachelor's to a master's and Ph.D in 20 minutes," he quipped.
Returning to Oakland he supported himself as a freelance commercial artists and painted after hours. But, in his words, painting never took and commercial art even less so. It turned out that teaching at the California Collage of Arts and Crafts in Oakland offered both creative and financial freedom. "I could give up scrounging around for commercial work and could apply elements of my knowledge of design more ruthlessly," he said. His lack of academic credentials not withstanding, he was invited to teach graduate classes at UC Davis before coming to UCI.
DeLap embraced Minimalism at a time when Abstract Expressionism, a movement of little appeal to him, still held sway. But, by his description, he did not meet all the requirements of a hard-core minimalist at first. "I came to Minimalism through the back door--rather as a free-agent in a minimalist tradition," he said. He flirted briefly with assemblage, and his starkly geometric paintings owing more to Op and Pop art than Minimalism received lukewarm notices at the time.
He also studied architecture and model making, two disciplines that shaped his unique creative vision. Consequently, he added an architecture appreciation course to the UCI curriculum. He describes himself as an "inclusivist," someone who resents the compartmentalization of art, architecture, two-and three-dimensional design and craft. "My aim has always been to bridge the great divide between disciplines. Compartmentalization works only to a certain extent," he said.
However refined it has become, DeLap's aesthetic is rooted in the unfettered lines of Russian Constructivist painting and sculpture and Modernist architecture. Russian painter/designer El Lissitzky's quasi-architectural forms he dubbed "Prouns" have profoundly inspired him. For example, "Esoterist" and "Red Daub," relief sculptures crafted from wood, aluminum and acrylic echo Lissitzky's esoteric forms to some extent.
DeLap also finds a spiritual appeal in Modernist/Minimalist architecture. He particularly admires architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Whitney Smith and Quincy Jones. "They opened my eyes to what architecture could be."
Be it his earliest pieces or the most recent work, the confluence between painting and sculpture, art and architecture and magic is apparent. The appeal of his work lies in a now you see it, now you don't framework. Canvas stretched over a-symmetrical armatures or combinations of wood, metal and acrylic materials cast shadows on the walls behind them. These shadows, cast as single elongated forms or gradated multiples, change with the vagaries of light. Just as if trying to find the crux of a magic trick, one has to look at DeLap's work again and again.
The secret lies behind the armatures and the edge--always the edge. "The edge is the content of the work. The picture plane is merely a vehicle so I can have an edge," he said. "My work has a space-time relationship--it is in constant flux. One has to look across the work to see it correctly."
DeLap works and lives in Corona del Mar with his wife Kathy in a rare, modernist style structure a block from the ocean. The house once belonged to Laguna Beach artist Paul Darrow, a close friend from the Claremont days to the present. DeLap added a spacious studio and workshop where, by he designs and crafts the pieces that contemporaries and critics have called "intriguing, elegant, engaging, powerful and poetic." On occasion he still takes on public art commissions but does not actively pursue them. "I now only do public art projects to get out of the studio," he said
Apparently unaffected by decades of accomplishments and acclaim, DeLap is articulate and outgoing without even a trace of self-aggrandizement. The boyish young artist captured in early photographs has given way to a white- bearded yet still energetic man who cheerfully shares his fascination with magic (any kind--sleight of hand, magic shows, Tarot cards, mind-reading, extra-sensory perception) with his interviewer. His collection of magic paraphernalia is suitably impressive. He has been a member and practicing magician of The Magic Castle in Los Angeles for 50 years
"Tony was forever trying out his latest magic tricks on us," recalled Darrow a while back, while also extolling their common passion for British roadsters of the type today's Panzer-sized SUVs would easily roll over. His kitchen evidences another avocation--that of a chef.
For a different perspective, he spent summers on family property outside of Vancouver boating and fly-fishing and drawing. "I become a pencil and paper man in the summer," he quipped.
Surveying DeLap's life and art, it becomes evident that labels and declaratory statements are not what defines the man and his work. As the eye takes in the play of form against light and shadow, passages of Oscar Wilde's preface to his novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" come to mind: "To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim...." Delving further into the meaning of art and its use in a framework of morality and, arguably, spirituality Wilde continued:"....The morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything...." Wilde wrote those words 121 years ago and, artistic media not withstanding, they foreshadow the crux of DeLap's work. He shows us that in magic as well as in art nothing can or should be proven but everything is possible.
--Daniella B. Walsh