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‘I really want to do some art’: New art gallery unleashed in Laguna Beach

Artist Christie Smith
Artist Christie Smith stands in her garage studio in Laguna Beach. Smith moved from Half Moon Bay in Northern California to open an art gallery in downtown Laguna Beach. Smith mostly works in wood and resins she mixes into her own colors.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

It’s a pretty simple story.

Christie Smith sighs but laughs as she explains how she was a professional golfer for over 20 years with the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. Then one day, she woke up and decided, “I really want to do some art.”

“From an early age, that probably would have been my preference — to be somewhat in the art world — but sports came so easy that that was what allowed me to have an education, basically,” she said. “So, I utilized the sports and followed that direction, and it led to that career.”

“But deep down inside, I always wanted to do something creative,” Smith added.

She made the transition to becoming an artist seven years ago after she retired, deciding to go full time into learning and exploring her craft.

Smith describes herself as an abstract expressionist and photographer, but she has experimented with different mediums and worked with canvas, acrylic and wood panels. Her favorite medium to work with, though, is resin, which Smith said she feels has more dimension than an acrylic painting.

And now, she’s moving onto the next step of her artistic journey by moving her gallery, Unleashed Art Gallery, down from Half Moon Bay to Laguna Beach.

Artist Christie Smith works in her sometimes living room studio in her home in Laguna Beach.
Artist Christie Smith works in her sometimes living room studio in her home in Laguna Beach. Smith moved from Half Moon Bay in Northern California to open an art gallery in downtown Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Smith made the decision to move to the city in mid-June. Her lease in Half Moon Bay would end before the end of the month, and she saw a space open up where her gallery stands now on 570 S. Coast Hwy.

The gallery has its soft opening this Thursday.

“In Half Moon Bay, you’d think it was great I was the only art gallery, but that’s not the case. It doesn’t become a destination for people to find art,” Smith said. “That was the main thing [for leaving], just being in an artist’s community in a place that’s recognized for art.”

“I have a home in Laguna. I already have a studio set up here. That made it a little bit easier. I didn’t have to relocate my whole self,” Smith said. “The space that I have had my eye on … as soon as it became available, I started [the process]. I knew by [June] 30, I was either going to stay in Half Moon Bay or leave.”

Jeanne Vargas, who lives in Half Moon Bay, said she’ll miss the gallery.

“There’s something about her art. Not only the colors, but you can just feel — especially with the ocean scenes — you can just feel like you’re there. It’s just a feelgood uplifting feeling about her art and who she is. She just exudes love,” Vargas said. “You can feel it in her work.”

“Lucky Laguna,” Vargas said, laughing.

Artist Christie Smith holds one of her most popular pieces.
Artist Christie Smith holds one of her most popular pieces, a heart-shaped ocean scene made of wood and resin, in her garage studio in Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Smith said she hopes to hold a ribbon cutting but added that she doesn’t know if it will be possible at this time because of the pandemic.

The gallery will have precautionary measures in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by making hand sanitizer available and regulating the number of people who come into the building to ensure social distancing is respected.

Yet, in spite of opening a new business in the throes of the pandemic, Smith said she isn’t too worried. When she had to close the doors to her gallery in Half Moon Bay in March, she actually sold more pieces, she said.

“It is crazy times. It’s so different. It’s a lot more relaxed down here than it is up north, I will say that. But, we’re excited,” Smith said, adding that she still has commissions and could sell online if she had to close shop again.

The gallery will sell her art, but she said she intends to try and connect and support the community, likely in relation to ocean conservation.

“It’s weird because it’s like people appreciate [art] differently now,” Smith said.

“A lot of people just looked at art. Now I think because they spend so much time at home and stuff, they’re now like ‘Oh yeah, I want some new artwork.’ It’s been a different appreciation in some ways, which was kind of interesting,” she said.

Artist Christie Smith moved from Half Moon Bay in Northern California to open an art gallery in downtown Laguna Beach.
Artist Christie Smith moved from Half Moon Bay in Northern California to open an art gallery in downtown Laguna Beach. Smith mostly works in wood and resins.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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