Plein Air paints for 'hidden gem'

More than 1,000 paintings by the Southern California Plein Air Painters Assn. will be on display and for sale this weekend on the patio of the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center; a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit the Newport Bay Naturalists and Friends nonprofit organization.

The sixth SOCALPAPA Biennial, a three-day event, will kick off Friday night with a juried competition and a private reception to recognize contributing artists, local community members and leaders, and to thank Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach for securing the funding through the county for new improvements to the center, said NBNF spokesman Roger Mallet.

The funding, about $130,000, went to three new interactive exhibits which combine murals with electronic touch-screen monitors. The monitors will provide information about the Back Bay and the wildlife captured by the artist's paintbrush.

"We didn't want to clutter up the mural with all this information," Mallet said of the wall-sized paintings. "This way, we are blending the everlasting natural beauty of the mural with the advantages of modern technology."

The murals are the creations of 2008 biennial winner and Newport Beach artist Greg LaRock.

LaRock will be unable to attend the unveiling of his work Friday because he will be on the East Coast for another art opening, said SOCALPAPA show director JoAnn Royal.

"[Plein air artists] can really bring out the true beauty of the bay and showcase all the different colors the way you really just can't do in a photograph," Mallet said of the murals.

Winners of the 2010 biennial will be awarded monetary prizes, gift certificates and art supplies, Royal said.

Following the opening night events will be a two-day artists meet-and-greet and patio sale. About 60 SOCALPAPA artists will be at the Muth Center to discuss their work and art with the public.

All work entered into the biennial is available for purchase, ranging from $200 to about $1,600, said Royal. Thirty-five percent of the proceeds will be donated to benefit preservation of the bay.

Almost $60,000 in paintings were sold at the last biennial, she said.

"As artists, we are very interested in preserving any natural habitats and wildlife which are still available," Royal said. "This is primarily a fundraiser."

In addition to providing funding to NBNF preservation and community education programs, SOCALPAPA hosts the biennials to bring exposure to the Interpretive Center and its somewhat hidden location.

Built directly into the hillside of one of the bay bluff, the center remains camouflaged to some of its closest neighbors, Mallet said.

"The reason why we sometimes call it a 'hidden gem' is because you can be right on University Drive, looking out at the bay, and still not see it," Mallet said.

"We sometimes get calls from people who are less than 200 feet away and can't find the place."

If you go: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, 2301 University Drive at Irvine Avenue.

If You Go

What: Sixth SOCALPAPA Biennial

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday

Where: Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, 2301 University Drive, at Irvine Avenue

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