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‘Beautiful soul’: Late painter Greg LaRock mourned by SoCal art community

Greg LaRock paints in Laguna Beach.
Greg LaRock paints in Laguna Beach. The artist died unexpectedly in October after a rollerblading accident.
(Photo by Laurie LaRock)

The art community in Southern California and beyond is mourning the death of beloved plein air painter Greg LaRock.

LaRock, 55, died earlier this month after a rollerblading accident in his neighborhood in Orange.

“He was a beautiful soul,” said Rosemary Swimm, executive director of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Assn. “It’s a terrible loss.”

LaRock was blading with his wife, Laurie, and their dogs on the evening of Oct. 9, as they had done nearly every evening for 17 years, when he fell and hit his head. He died two days later.

Greg LaRock's "Main Beach Morning," oil on linen.
Greg LaRock’s “Main Beach Morning,” oil on linen, depicts a familiar scene in Laguna Beach.
(Courtesy of greglarock.com)

“We had a tremendous amount of love for each other,” Laurie says. “To lose him is heartbreaking. But this is a man who always stood strong and said ‘It’s gonna be OK.’ And that’s what I keep thinking of.”

Laurie, a graphic artist, said she has been comforted by emails, cards and phone calls arriving from artists across the nation. Collectors, from Italy to Ireland and Nashville to Sonoma, have also reached out to say how much he meant.

Artist Greg LaRock died at age 55 after a rollerblading accident in October 2020.
(Courtesy of Laurie LaRock)

“Greg just was literally one of the kindest, most generous people,” Laurie says. “A sweet, quiet person, but with a quirky, silly sense of humor. He had a smile on his face constantly, and he just radiated warmth.”

She said her husband would be happy that his organs went to people who needed them.

She plans to scatter his ashes soon in some of his favorite places. One of those places is Heisler Park on the bluffs of Laguna Beach. LaRock painted the iconic ocean scene dozens of time. Another subject he returned to again and again was the Back Bay in Newport Beach. If you ever strolled those spots in the early morning or late afternoon and saw a painter wearing a canvas outback hat, trying to capture the contrast of light and shadow at his easel, there’s a good chance you saw Greg.

Laguna Beach plein air artist Jeff Sewell guesses more than a thousand of LaRock’s paintings are hanging on walls around the world (including in the living room of a yacht perennially circling the globe).

“I’m gutted by his absence, mostly as a friend, but he became incredibly talented as an artist,” Sewell says. “Capturing light was a real gift for him. And it didn’t matter what subject, whether boats at a boatyard or majestic landscapes or seascapes or people walking on Balboa Island, Greg could paint anything. He was excellent at capturing the moment.

“But he had this incredible gift of balancing being an uber-talented artist with being one of the most giving and humble human beings I’ve ever known.”

"Restoration Conversation," a painting by Greg LaRock.
“Restoration Conversation,” a painting by Greg LaRock, was selected for the 18th National Exhibition of the American Society of Marine Artists and is traveling the country.
(Courtesy of greglarock.com)

San Clemente artist Rick Delanty remembers his friend the same way.

“Greg was always sharing and caring but never competitive,” he says.

The two often traveled together to invitationals throughout the west and beyond, from San Luis Obispo to Maui.

“He really was an inspiration to me, a true craftsman, a painter’s painter,” Delanty says. “He’s affected the plein air community in just a massive way.”

LaRock won dozens of awards, including Best of Show Plein Air Easton and Sonoma Plein Air and Artist Choice at Maui Plein Air Invitational. He was also a signature member of Oil Painters of America and American Society of Marine Artists.

“What a legacy of spectacular paintings he left to the world,” said Mary Platt, director of the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University. “Greg stood firmly in the great tradition of the California Scene painters — icons such as Millard Sheets and Emil Kosa Jr. — who portrayed everyday life in the Golden State with such affection, understanding and finesse. His work deserves to be beside them.” 

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