BY DESIGN : Down to Size : Known for Grand Works, These Artists Also Turn Clothes and Jewelry Into Art

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Most people keep a discreet, reverent distance from art. But Pascal, Pal Kepenyes and Mercedes Lasarte--three international artists currently exhibiting in Los Angeles--want to draw collectors closer.

They beckon with art to wear--similar, less costly versions of sculptures and paintings in museums and private collections around the world. They use silk, crystal, semiprecious gems and bronze for their wearable collectibles, which are signed, issued in limited editions and infused with the same spirit and magic, the same zest for life as their more monumental pieces.

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In a poolside corner of Pascal's Beverly Hills home stands her most ambitious work: a four-ton green-glass seated torso sold recently to billionaire John Kluge for $3 million.

"I just work hard and keep that hammer going," says the energetic, age-defying 80-year-old artist, whose sculptures--in Pennsylvania glass, Swarovski crystal or stainless steel--and paintings on canvas or wood routinely fetch $10,000 to $300,000.

"I paint, I do stainless steel, I carve. You keep fresh going from one medium to the next," she explains after working with a hammer and chisel, glass shards flying dangerously close to her signature blond topknot and custom-made menswear. (The last time she wore a dress was 29 years ago, by request, for her daughter's wedding.)

Although she can hear now, after four operations, she was born with a congenital malformation that rendered her nearly deaf. She lived in silence as a child and communicated through her drawings. Sent to Europe by a wealthy uncle to study sculpture, she fell under the spell of Impressionist painting instead. Decades later, she returned to the United States, bought the contents of an abandoned glass factory and developed her unique carving skills.

Five years ago, at the urging of her daughter, Jill Petty, Pascal launched a collection of crystal miniatures that can be worn or displayed. The jeweled pieces--including a smug cat, a festive circus horse and a proud duchess--are formed in molds rather than carved, cost $1,900 to $3,400 and are sold under license worldwide. Locally, they are available through the Dyansen Gallery in Beverly Hills and Liscot Enterprises in Los Angeles, the company run by Petty, her husband and their daughter.

Driven by creativity and memories of hard times--when, for example, the electricity was cut off in her home and studio--the artist works five days a week starting at 6:30 a.m. She breaks for lunch, driving every day with her husband to the Four Seasons Hotel. And she means break . They purposely sit where they cannot see the Pascal painting that hangs in the room.

"Taught to work with a fast brush," she can finish a painting in three hours. But sculptures, like the $25,000 painted stainless steel geisha girls on wheels that dot her two living rooms, take so many hours she loses count.

Her home is filled with her art: the decorative geishas who hold functional serving trays; crystal heads of women and Indian chiefs; paintings of trees, boats, wheat fields, young girls walking in the snow; huge stainless steel figures outside her poolside studio, and a life-size steel senorita in a ruffled metal costume, which stands in the entrance hall.

She is willing to part with them all. "I'm only 80. I'm still young," she says, her perky topknot, confident voice and strong hands attesting to the truth of her words. "I might do something better."

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Pal Kepenyes, a Hungarian-born artist living in Acapulco, has been creating bronze sculptures and jewelry for 25 years.

His wearable art, priced $300 to $1,000, was introduced recently at Fred Hayman in Beverly Hills. A showing of his sculptures is scheduled for October at the new Chac-Mool gallery in West Hollywood.

The burly, blue-eyed artist says the pieces are of equal importance to him: "Every technical process connects. I get a lot of experience for the sculptures from my jewelry." And while a necklace of tail-to-tail mermaids might be lighthearted, his gift to Beverly Hills sends a more serious message. The sculpture, titled "Walls," stands in City Hall as a testimony to liberty and the sister-city relationship between Beverly Hills and Acapulco.

The artist, an optimist despite spending five years in a Hungarian prison for his anti-communist views, is fascinated with freedom, time and space. As a child and later as a student in Budapest and Paris, he says: "I was always looking back and I was also very futuristic. After art, my second favorite subject was space.

"The alteration of material from nothing to nothing excites me," he adds, explaining why so many of his works have movable parts or flip sides to symbolize the inherent changes in life.

But he doesn't like city life: "To me, it limits the human spirit." So he resides atop a high peak in a breathtaking home frequented by friends and collectors who happily participate in his evening ritual: In silence they all watch the sun set and make a wish.

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Argentine-born artist Mercedes Lasarte lives and works in her own hilltop haven--a sun-drenched, Mediterranean-style home in Encino.

Her brightly colored scenes, which include bowls of succulent fruits, exotic women in repose and polo players in action, appear on canvas and silk. The canvases cost $3,500 to $7,500, and her ties, vests, kimonos and silk scarves (many of them large enough to double as sarongs) are $100 to $600. Her works are sold through the DeVorzon Gallery in Beverly Hills, which is open by appointment only.

The silk produces more vivid colors than canvas. And it requires a different set of skills. "The oil painting takes much longer," she explains. "I can do it slowly. It is like a pleasure. When I paint on silk, I have to go very fast, make fast decisions."

She starts with white fabric, sketches on it and colors every inch with special dyes. The finished work is stretched, then placed in a steamer for two hours, a process that sets the colors and allows dry cleaning.

Every artist has a muse; Lasarte's is her hearth. "I am always making the ultimate painting for my fireplace," she says. Her sarong-sized scarves are large enough to fill the bill, and when they are hung from plexiglass rods, rather than framed, she categorizes them as "earthquake art."

In the past, she created T-shirts and postcards for her now-defunct studio-galleries in Santa Monica and Venice. And she still thinks fondly of the postcards: "The original idea was to support my gallery. But I love to sell to lots of people. To me, to sell one card, one painting is the same thing. Someone likes what I do, wants to have it. And there is the possibility of it going all around the world."

The T-shirts, however, "weren't a very good idea. They were too much work. The silk is so much more satisfying. People who buy it are like sybarites. They love it." Her $100 ties are "the easiest to sell. I didn't know that men buy so many ties--and it's men, not their wives."

An athlete who Rollerblades, golfs, plays tennis, swims and adores polo, she is also a world traveler and confessed artistic late bloomer who has changed her direction:

"I was always postponing the process of creation. Now it is part of my life. I have to paint. It is the same as if you have to talk to someone on the phone."

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