Fine art on the coast: Oolong Gallery opens in Solana Beach
A new art venue has opened up in Solana Beach with Oolong Gallery, hoping to infuse a bit of culture and sophistication in between two surf shops on Highway 101.
Owner Eric Laine, 45, is a Cardiff resident and transplant from New York City. He has worked in the contemporary art world for 20 years, including 15 years in New York City in varying roles as an artist manager, gallery assistant and independent curator and art dealer with projects in Berlin, Miami and Los Angeles as a member of New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA).
With Oolong, Laine can finally add gallerist to his curated titles.
At the gallery, he hopes to present fine art with fun and interesting receptions, rotating shows every six weeks. In addition to showcasing art, he also hopes to host artist talks, screenings, recitals and events, welcoming established collectors and patrons, art newbies and kids.
“This is a wild start-up, " said Laine. “It kind of came out of left field,”
Oolong got a boost when he partnered with “weird transplants like myself” Matt Moore and Carrie Marill, whom he met in his son Edgar’s fifth grade class at Ada Harris Elementary School.
The pair had relocated to Cardiff from Phoenix during the pandemic and, like Laine, had backgrounds steeped in art. Moore, who sits on the board of Creative Capital, a nationwide organization that funds art projects, was using the Solana Beach space as a showroom for Matteo Goods, his line of raisable designer office desks. Marill was also using the space as an art studio before opening the Punkwasp shop next door, selling her small-batch apparel and jewelry.
With Matteo desks selling mostly online, they no longer needed the space and offered it to Laine who had already had the Oolong idea brewing in his head for many years.
With an inheritance from his late father, he decided to take the money and invest it in something meaningful, fulfilling both a long-held dream and also bringing more art to the North County San Diego area.
“The space is gorgeous, it looks like a tea house so I came up with the name Oolong,” Laine said of the modern space that opens up to the outdoors.
Since opening, Laine said he has been embraced by the Solana Beach community, who has been so supportive of his business, and he is also making connections in the local art scene—Oolong is a green sponsor of June 25’s Greener Gala at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Diego (ICA, formerly the Lux Institute).
Oolong’s inaugural show, “Global Entry”, opened on June 4 and will run through the summer, bringing together an eclectic group of 13 established and up-and-coming contemporary artists. It was an ambitious first undertaking for Laine and the gallery: “This show was so much work, I’ve never had such a big group show, nothing of this caliber,” he said.
Artists represented in the show include Bas Louter, an L.A. artist who specializes in innovative mixed media collage techniques; Griselda Rosas, a “local phenom” whose watercolor paintings incorporate stitchwork on paper and ostrich leather; and Alika Cooper, an L.A.-based artist originally from Poway who has received accolades for her paintings but is exploring new territory with her bronze swimsuit sculptures. Laine’s partner Marill has two pieces in the show, as does artist Robbie Simon who designed the Oolong Gallery’s retro-inspired logo.
“A lot of these artists understand this is a new market and they’re curious about how their work will do here,” Laine said.
Laine believes the launch was a “wild success” and it couldn’t have happened without help from his “wonderful” 18-year-old assistant Margo Yinger and public relations specialist Olivia Mueller, whom he happened to meet at the Encinitas dog park.
Those who have seen the show have loved it, Laine said. “It’s very hard to get people to leave their comfort zones but that’s the goal,” he said, noting he had to convince a few people to travel all the way from Cardiff “over there” to Solana Beach.
Once he gets people in to experience Oolong, he said he hopes it will convey an enhanced understanding of the importance of creating, appreciating and collecting art—he wants to celebrate people making beautiful things.
“I love the work that I’m showing, I’m just a fan of these artists,” Laine said. “ Shock and awe is not a theme…I personally love pleasure in the arts, I’m going to make it fun.”
Laine added: “Let’s just see what happens.”
Oolong Gallery is located at 349 North Coast Highway 101 in Solana Beach, south of Mitch’s Surf Shop and next to Solana Succulents. For more information, visit oolongallery.com or check them out on Instagram @Oolongallery
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