Uptown artists eager for ArtWalk

Posted: April 22nd, 2016 | Arts & Entertainment, Top Story | No Comments

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Jewelry artist Adrian Arango has lived in Hillcrest on and off for most of his life. Back in the 1990s, he used to walk the streets between Hillcrest and Balboa Park in search of inspiration.

“I was doing a line called ’90s Trash,’” Arango told San Diego Uptown News. “I would pick up trash that was interesting to me — as an artist you have to see everything and dissect it. I was basically picking up trash in the streets — and making lots of jewelry.”

Painter Stephanie Clair has lived with her family in South Park for eight years, but it wasn’t always a sure thing.

“We took a break for two years. We went to New Zealand. It took us moving all the way across the world to realize what a wonderful little community we had back here. … We turned our two-car garage into my studio. We have shows here. It brings out the community, gets people together.”

(l to r) Stephanie Clair and Adrian Arango (Courtesy of the artists)

(l to r) Stephanie Clair and Adrian Arango (Courtesy of the artists)

Photographer and painter Leslie Pierce received a windfall a couple years ago, gave up on trying to make it in Austin, and moved to Golden Hill.

“I sold six paintings,” Pierce said, “loaded up a U-Haul, and drove here from Texas. It was the most desolate loneliness — I wouldn’t recommend it. I wanted to do it for 14 years, so, what the heck.”

While all three artists live in Uptown neighborhoods, their work is as diverse as their paths to the area. But they do have one other thing in common: They were selected by jury to display their work in the 2016 Mission Federal ArtWalk San Diego, an annual fine art and performing arts festival. This year’s event is April 30 and May 1 in Little Italy.

Mission Federal Credit Union, which has a branch in Mission Hills, is sponsoring ArtWalk for the eighth year. Part of the credit union’s mission is caring for the local community it serves. The festival’s director, Sandi Cottrell, said Mission Fed’s financial contribution helps keep the festival free for the community and provides a venue for artists.

Code Defi ed No. 1 “The Art Party” by Leslie Pierce (Courtesy of the artist)

Code Defi ed No. 1 “The Art Party” by Leslie Pierce (Courtesy of the artist)

“It’s a labor of love to be a professional artist,” Cottrell said, “to attempt to make a living in that way. It’s just such an honor to give them a showcase for their work.”

Arango’s work began at San Diego State University, where he studied graphic arts when design was transitioning to computers — but not Arango.

“I was going towards handmade things,” he recalled. “One of my projects meant for us to pick up three different materials that would form the art piece. One was leather, which is my main medium right now, so that’s the inception, but obviously it has grown. I did try setting up a website, but I’d rather be making my jewelry.”

Instead, Arango shows his one-of-a-kind pieces, incorporating leather, beading and antique buttons, in the Solana Beach design district.

Code Defied No. 16 “Twiggy” by Leslie Pierce (Courtesy of the artist)

Code Defied No. 16 “Twiggy” by Leslie Pierce (Courtesy of the artist)

Clair abandoned a corporate job to become an artist.

“I decided to take the leap and make it my full-time passion,” she said. “My early work was very Cubist. It looked like stained glass. But I didn’t want it to be too angular, like Picasso. My more recent work, they’re a lot more free, a lot more open, not as Cubist. I really want to evoke mystery and emotion, and also challenge the viewer’s eye and mine, so you get lost in the three-dimensional world — people, passion and beauty. I try to tell a story, and the eyes in the painting allow you to reach in and connect to the piece, be enlightened, inspired.”

Pierce, who works in oils, was selected as one of eight featured artists at this year’s ArtWalk, from among the 350 participating artists.

“I start with a photograph,” Pierce said of her process. “I was well- known for a photo series before, and I shoot my own photo references now. I love my newest series, ‘Code Defied.’ I admire photorealism, but I wanted to play with abstraction and reality in a new way. I was printing some photo references and the printer went on the blink — printing lines, striations of color. That was the start of the ‘Code Defied’ series. Now, in some of the paintings’ lines I’m using Morse code to spell out ‘Code Defied.’ It brings up so many things about systems.”

As the artists gear up for ArtWalk, they imagine seeing old friends and collectors, maybe attracting some new ones.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 8.31.32 AM“Years ago,” Pierce said, “when I was doing the photo series, someone walked by, saw my work and offered to represent me. I’m kind of hoping for lightning to strike twice.”

—Kit-Bacon Gressitt writes commentary and essays on her blog, “Excuse Me, I’m Writing,” and has been published by Ms. Magazine blog and Trivia: Voice of Feminism, among others. She formerly wrote for the North County Times. She also hosts Fallbrook’s monthly Writers Read authors series and open mic, and can be reached at

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