Artist of the Year nominees are announced for Art Star recognition – include local sculptor, painter and musicians

By THERESA KEEGAN

Being an artist in an art town seems like it should be an easy assignment. Yet the reality is any artist always has to work hard to keep the passion afloat – to conceptualize, comment, create. To keep making something from nothing and engaging other people with the completed product. Successful artists challenge us to see the new perspectives they offer, and, in the process, we gain new insight.

In Laguna Beach, once a year a dedicated group takes time to honor distinguished artists at the annual Art Star Awards. This celebratory event is the brainchild of the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance and will be held at the Festival of Arts on April 26.

During the night, nominees from four various categories will be announced, and one of each group will be named the 2024 Art Star winner. A Lifetime Achievement Award is also awarded.

This year’s nominees for Artist of the Year are: Casey Parlette, Elizabeth McGhee and the 133 Band. Each very talented in their own area – sculpture, painting and music – they all share a love of Laguna.

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Courtesy of Casey Parlette

Laguna Beach sculptor Casey Parlette often brings animals into his pieces, including an octopus sculpture that is found by a bench he created in Heisler Park

Casey Parlette

If you’ve seen sculpted sea creatures while walking through Laguna, you’ve likely seen Casey Parlette’s artwork. From an octopus by the bench at Heisler Park to the pelicans soaring alongside a building on Pacific Coast Highway or sharks “swimming” in front of City Hall, his work connects the street and the sea.

“I’ve always been drawn to the natural world,” said Parlette. “Growing up I’d be out hiking and also checking the tidepools. A lot of my stuff (art) is lesser-known creatures – I like to give them time in the sun. My work is kind of a celebration of nature.”

Parlette uses a variety of mediums when creating his pieces, including wood, metal and stone. He was always drawn to creating things and even learned blacksmithing by helping an artist in the canyon. For more than two decades he was a full-time lifeguard, and his art was done after work or on days off, but when his child was born, family time became a priority. In 2018, he took the plunge and became a full-time artist.

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Courtesy of Casey Parlette

Casey Parlette’s 3-D wall sculpture, “Dawn Patrol,” includes pelicans in flight and the wave, which also pulls away from the building, is made of titanium, which glistens in many ways, depending on how the sun is reflecting upon the piece

“So far, so good,” he said. Parlette, who has shown at the Festival of Arts since 2008, is quick to credit the support he’s received from other artists, the Laguna community and city programs for his success.

“The support makes my career path – which is a difficult career path to get started – within the realm of possibility…. It wouldn’t be possible to do art for a living without the support of the city and the community and all the opportunities that have been presented.”

He’s honored to receive The Artist of the Year nomination.

“It’s really cool to be recognized in this venue,” he said. “An artist makes the art, but the community around it is also important – it’s a team effort.”

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Photo by Michael Tauber

Laguna Beach artist Elizabeth McGhee is known for a series of her realistic, and often fun, paintings of childhood items

Elizabeth McGhee

If there’s an art endeavor happening in Laguna Beach, chances are Elizabeth McGhee is somehow involved. Although she shows at the Festival of Arts, she is also known for teaching classes, participating in fashion shows, being a docent or helping someone at Laguna Art Supply, where she works.

“I volunteer a lot,” she said, at the same time quickly crediting the mentors who have helped her develop her art career after graduating from Laguna College of Art + Design.

“The idea of the lone artist who does everything themselves is just a myth – everybody has help,” she said. “I was so lucky when I got here (to Laguna) I was mentored by Michele Taylor and Anne England and a bunch of other artists in the community. The support system is all around. I’ve never met a good artist who isn’t generous.”

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Courtesy of Elizabeth McGhee

Laguna Beach artist Elizabeth McGhee has fun with her work, including titles. The above painting is called “Iron-y.”

McGhee’s role with LOCA, where she teaches a variety of classes, allows her to earn money while at the still time share her passion with impressionable people.

“Art is a learned skill,” she said. “It’s not you’re either born with it or you’re not. I didn’t pick up art until my senior year in high school, when I took it only because I thought it would be an easy class.”

McGhee may be blazing her own path – including being represented at Gallery Henoch in New York City – but she is also following a bit of a family tradition: Her great-grandmother was an artist at the Festival of Arts in the 1950s.

“My grandma is always saying her mother would be so proud I’m continuing the tradition,” said McGhee.

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Courtesy of Elizabeth McGhee

Artist Elizabeth McGhee’s painting “Zinc” realistically captures the patio scene of this popular Laguna Beach restaurant

And the Art Star nomination is another reason to be proud.

“I’m just excited to be nominated,” said McGhee. “It’s cool just to be in the same league of the other artists that have been nominated.” She believes the recognition is a holistic reflection on her work.

“It’s not so much recognition of a skill or task you’ve completed well,” she said. “I already feel that validation by the community. It says more about you as an individual.”

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Photo by Doug Miller 

The 133 Band is a popular fixture for both locals and visitors when they play each summer at the Festival of Arts

Clay Berryhill and the 133 Band

When musicians get together there are jokes, songs and of course, music. But for the 133 Band, the motto reveals much: The Best Band that Never Was.

“The band was put together to do a film in 2013,” said founder Clay Berryhill. “We filmed everything together for about a year.” The content is now being edited and certain clips are being shown.

“The theme of the documentary is about Laguna Beach and its certain musical style, and these guys are all in the heart of it,” said Berryhill. “It’s telling the story of how you write and record music.”

The eight musicians came together after Berryhill, a life-long Laguna Beach resident, built a music studio in his house after leaving a “soul-sucking” corporate job.

The musicians come from a variety of backgrounds – songwriters, solo artists or band members in touring rock groups. They include Nick Hernandez, Poul Petersen, Steve Wood, Beth Wood, Jason Freddy, Richard Bredice, Alan Deremo and Frank Cotinola. They currently play monthly at Skyloft or Mozambique, and are often a popular concert at the summer Festival of Arts shows. They’ve stuck together for more than a decade since Berryhill’s vision brought them together.

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Courtesy of Clay Berryhill

The 133 Band formed after Laguna Beach resident Clay Berryhill invited musicians to use a sound studio he’d built

“I just wanted to reach out to my buddies and let them use my studio to record songs,” said Berryhill. “Then someone mentioned it would be a great documentary.”

In addition to the band members, the film includes conversations with area residents who supported the music scene in Laguna, including the deceased Jim Otto from Sound Spectrum and Taylor Hawkins from Foo Fighters.

Berryhill is thrilled to have music included in this year’s Art Star nominations.

“Music is totally an art form,” he said. “You’re creating something out of nothing.… When you’ve created a song, you can’t hang it on the wall and have people look at it. But through music you connect with people in a different way.”

For more information about the Art Star Awards, click here. The Art Star Awards will be held at the grounds of the Festival of Arts on April 26. The public is invited to attend, and tickets can be purchased by clicking here.


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