Artist John Cosby’s one-man show and special evening talk highlights the many places and sites he’s captured while traveling the country


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While many people come to paint Laguna’s beautiful sites on location, plein air artist John Cosby isn’t content to just capture this area. In fact, he’s traveled the world and is still inspired by the sites he sees – both while traveling and at home in Southern California.

“I like painting both obvious beauty and things that are not so obvious and finding the beauty in them,” he said.

His experiences and talent are captured in the current gallery show of Laguna Plein Air Painters Association: John Cosby: Looking West, a Portrait of the Places I Love. The opening reception was during First Thursdays Art Walk on June 6.

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Photos courtesy of John Cosby

John Cosby’s one-man show at LPAPA features many pieces he’s painted of wide open, western landscapes, including “Westward Flow” shown above

The month-long solo exhibit will also extend beyond the gallery walls, giving people an opportunity to better understand this signature artist, who is also a founding member of LPAPA.

On Saturday, June 8, Cosby will host a talk on “What Makes a Successful Painting,” which includes a presentation and then showing clips from an in-progress film documentary about his work. He is also leading a three-day workshop, starting June 10.

“It’s rare to have a one-man show nowadays,” said Cosby. “In general, galleries don’t invest the time and effort. The dynamics of the art world have changed a bit.” It’s also demanding of an artist to gather so much work, but Cosby is thrilled with the opportunity. “I can look at the body of work over 45 years. I’ve been a lot of places.”

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Artist John Cosby sets up his outdoor studio when he travels throughout the country, whether he’s capturing natural beauty, such as in the Red Rock country or urban settings

Cosby began his travels at age 18 while in the military, working in the communications arena for the White House. He traveled with both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, setting up all the “cool toys.” He traveled 300 days a year and went to China with Nixon and on a Pacific Rim tour with Ford.

When he left the White House at age 23, he took his love of travel with him – touring through Canada on a motorcycle, which he traded in for a boat. He started drawing other people’s boats and selling the pieces to the owners because he was broke. (He’d learned to paint as a child from his artist grandmother in Laguna Beach who shared her love of the profession with John.)

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John Cosby’s grandmother was an artist in Laguna Beach and taught him at an early age the wonders of painting outdoors

When he realized he could earn a living as an artist he never looked back, crediting the people he’d met at the White House for his decision.

“I was just a fly on the wall, but some of the more interesting people I got to meet all proclaimed to me ‘Find something that you love and hold on with both hands and you’ll be successful.’”

Cosby loved that he could still travel and be an artist. He moved to California 35 years ago and began associating with other Plein Air artists in Laguna. In 1996, five of them decided to produce a newsletter and shared information about how to get onto certain properties to paint. The Laguna Plein Air Painters Association was born. While he never imagined it would grow to its current powerhouse status, he is delighted with the outcome.

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When artist John Cosby moved to Laguna Beach he joined forces with other plein air artists in the area, and they founded LPAPA. He’s painted many ocean images, including “Stone and Salt Water” through the years.

“It’s an educational organization and a nonprofit – that’s important to me,” said Cosby. “I’ve been a teacher for 25 years and I see a lot of joy coming out of it – not that the world needs another artist. But when you see people with a repressed urge to draw suddenly stretching themselves … and when you recognize that somebody is mastering the tools that they’re trying to master, it’s joyous to watch. Watching people grow is my interest in teaching.”

But being on the road sparks his passion.

“I travel constantly,” said Cosby. “I love the unpredictability of it. So much of life is predictable and when you’re traveling that all goes out the door. I sit in environments from urban to out in the wild and there are wild animals in both.”

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John Cosby looks for different angles, especially in popular painting locations. Here, Main Beach is featured in “Keeping it Chill.”

He captures impeccable lighting in his landscapes and scenes of people in their everyday lives. For the past decade, he and a friend have been working on a series of images of the Rust Belt states, prompted from a show he curated on Cape Cod following 9/11, where artists from every state were represented.

“In traveling around, I realized the rust belt was a thing and it was beautiful,” he said. “There’s all this craftsmanship from when America became America, formed its reputation, created its businesses. I saw so many things that were beautiful, but the natural beauty and the steel mills were being torn down.”

Painting these images is not an obligation, said Cosby; it’s more a documentation of his adventures in this part of the country.

“It’s the experience I have when painting sites that I infuse into the painting,” he said. “That alone is a rewarding experience for me.”

John Cosby’s show will run through July 1 at the LPAPA gallery, 414 N. Coast Highway. For hours and to purchase tickets to the Saturday talk, click here. To learn more about John Cosby, click here.

This story is a part of our Arts section. For more art stories as well as our art calendars, visit

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