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Artwork up close: Hugo Rivera's 'The Jazz Band'

Another in an occasional look at artworks on display around Laguna Beach.

Hugo Rivera was sitting in church one day, watching the band tune up onstage, when artistic inspiration struck.

"They were just tuning their instruments that day before they started playing," said Rivera, a member of the Costa Mesa Seventh-day Adventist Church. "I was just sketching the guys moving around with the instruments."

When Rivera returned to his gallery — the Hugo Rivera Gallery in Laguna Beach, which he has run for two years — he found himself drawn to one of those sketches, and he converted it to a painting. "The Jazz Band," a vibrant, primary-color-dominated portrait of three nearly faceless musicians in a blurry urban setting, is now on view at Rivera's downtown space.

Here are a few key points of the image:

1. Kind of blue

If any color has been associated with jazz over the years, it's blue: Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue," Blue Note Records, trumpeter Blue Mitchell and so on. Still, Rivera had a more immediate inspiration for the dominant color scheme in his painting: the sky outside his studio, coupled with the ocean that rolls across the street.

2. Time and place?

To give the image a free-floating quality, Rivera intentionally muddied the time and place. With the sky a hazy blue, is the band playing at dawn or dusk? And despite the vague shapes of skyscrapers in the background, it's unclear whether the scene takes place on the ground or a rooftop. Lastly, the artist gives no indication of the audience, which could be a crowd of thousands or whoever is on hand to hear a jam session.

3. Faceless figures

The mystery extends to the musicians themselves, who show no facial features beyond hints of eyes and mouths — allowing a viewer to project more specific details onto the canvas. In the words of Rivera: "I don't want people to see what I see. I want people to have their own interpretation. When you see an image, right away you probably have your own interpretation. Probably, you experienced something related to that and you already know what it is."

4. Bass in the middle

Just as the bass often anchors a jazz piece, the standup bass serves as centerpiece in Rivera's painting — and shares the color of the background, no less. On either side of it are the saxophone and trumpet players, who stand out in bold red and yellow. "You have the foundation in the center and the pillars on the sides," Rivera says.

5. Spontaneity

Rivera approached "The Jazz Band" not like a composer painstakingly crafting a symphony, but like a jazz soloist riffing on the spot. He completed the work in about two days and left the rough touches showing: for example, the scratch marks on the saxophonist and the motion marks — or are they spiky hairs? — on the trumpeter's head.


Medium: Acrylic on canvas, 40 by 40 inches

Location: Hugo Rivera Gallery, 550 S. Coast Hwy., Suite 3, Laguna Beach

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday through Friday

Price: $3,900

Information: (949) 212-7875 or


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