Travels in Mexico and Artemio Sepúlveda at Laguna Art Museum

Laguna Art Museum continues its long-standing relationship with the renowned collection of Newport Beach lawyer Gene Crain with the exhibition Travels in Mexico: Watercolors from the Diane and E. Gene Crain Collection, February 20-May 25, 2020.

In recent years, the museum has included works from the Crain collection in well-regarded exhibitions such as California Holiday, Rex Brandt: In Praise of Sunshine, and Travels with Millard Sheets.

The next Crain-centric Laguna Art Museum exhibition focuses on a small selection of works from the collection that were not painted in California like the majority of the work, but when the artists traveled to Mexico—at times accompanied by Mr. Crain.

Crain began collecting work by the artists in the 1960s, when he met Rex Brandt at the artist’s home in Corona del Mar. Through Brandt, Crain met Phil Dike and Millard Sheets, with whom he also formed close friendships. 

“The bellwether fact of anything that I have collected has to do with the absolute touch point that I knew the artist,” Crain says in an oral history interview by Susan Anderson for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, in 1999. 

These three artists introduced Crain to the many possibilities of painting in watercolor and became his guides in developing the collection of work from the California School, a West Coast watercolor movement that arose during the Great Depression.

Brassy Day, 1939, by Millard Sheets. Collection of E. Gene and Diane Crain. 

“The name California School came up very, very early in the 1930s,” Crain says. “They had a certain feeling of spontaneity, and a whole lot of Disney influence, in the way that pigment was applied to paper or canvas.”

Most of the nearly1,000 works in the Crain collection are watercolor paintings. “It’s the best medium available for capturing the…pureness, the beauty, the uniqueness of Southern California,” he says. “If you’re going to paint water and sunshine, the best medium for it is water.”

Crain’s family moved to Orange County in 1942, when he was a boy. “When I came to Southern California, Costa Mesa had exactly 1,100 people in it,” he recalls in the oral interview. “Greater Newport Beach had 5,000 people. My parents bought the third nicest house in Costa Mesa and five and a half acres of land, and they paid $2,500 for the whole thing. One of my earliest memories of California is watching them agonize over whether or not they wanted to go into debt to buy this.”

A few year later, in 1954, Crain recalls being “astounded at my then boss, who owned a malt shop, and he was building a home in Corona Del Mar. Everything cost $35,000. The home, the land, the plans, the turnkey. I thought, ‘The man is crazy. How could anybody spend this much money?’”

Windswept, 1940, by Millard Sheets. Collection of E. Gene and Diane Crain.

Artemio Sepúlveda

Alongside the Travels in Mexico exhibition featuring the work of California artists working south of the border, Laguna Art Museum will also feature the work of Artemio Sepúlveda, a Mexican artist who lived and painted in California.

The exhibition, which will include a large-scale charcoal drawing recently acquired by the museum, includes paintings created in Laguna Beach from 1977 until 1999. It’s the first U.S. museum show of Sepúlveda’s work in 20 years. 

As a young artist, Sepúlveda was an assistant for the renowned Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, assimilating the influence of Picasso and the German Expressionists. In the 1960s, he was associated with Nueva Presencia, a group of figure painters working in expressionistic styles. During the 1960s and ‘70s, Sepúlveda showed his work in galleries in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Mexico. In 1977, he moved to Laguna Beach with his American wife and their two children, but the couple parted. 

Sepúlveda remained in Laguna until 1999. He taught at the Laguna Beach School of Art (now Laguna College of Art and Design), and sold his work at the Festival of Arts, the Fine Arts Gallery on Lumberyard Plaza, and the Diane Nelson Gallery. 

He is still active as a painter, living and working in a rural community outside San Miguel de Allende. Although he is represented in numerous private and public collections, notably the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, he has not received the recognition he has earned, especially outside his native country. 

Artemio Sepúlveda and Travels in Mexico: Watercolors from the Diane and E. Gene Crain Collection
February 20-May 25, 2020
Laguna Art Museum
307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach
949.494.8971 |

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