Music is definitely the foundation of KAABOO Del Mar, but the three-day festival wouldn’t be a “mixperience” without the inclusion of its stunning visual art.
From gigantic murals and live creation, the conversion of the O’Brien Pavilion into a sprawling showcase of hand-made fine art was an integral component of the third-annual event by the ocean.
San Diego had plenty of musical representation in the form of bands like Little Hurricane, One Drop, Trouble in the Wind, and Pepper this weekend, but its on-site cast of fine artists was even more extensive.
Here’s a look at a few of the amazing San Diego artists, as well as their spectacular creations, represented at the 2017 KAABOO event.
Michael Carini grew up in Point Loma, but moved to L.A. for a short time to study art. Now he’s back and working out of his home in University Heights.
“This is something I’ve always been doing,” Carini said on Sunday during a break from working. “I feel like I didn’t live before I started painting. To me, painting was my inception, my birth.”
Although the young painter felt pressure to stay in the star-studded Los Angeles scene, the choice for him to return to San Diego was a no-brainer.
“When you grow up somewhere,” he said, “there’s a certain level of commitment to that place. There’s a relationship there. You want to give back to the place that brought you up and help it grow. I want to be one of the people who bring it up a level.”
The KAABOO first-timer created two pieces over the weekend, both inspired by the festival. He also enjoyed the experience of constantly interacting with fans and passers-by, some of whom knew his work and some who were experiencing it for the first time inside the Artwork and Palate pavilion.
“Painting is my way of communication,” said Carini. “And I consider myself a storyteller. I’m concerned with telling an honest story. If you tell an honest story through your work, then it has value. And that’s what creates the beauty. This whole thing has been a great experience, a great way to communicate, and I definitely want to come back.”
Born at Grossmont Hospital and raised in El Cajon, Spencer Little never had any inclination that he’d end up making art. Although the tall, gregarious artist grew up working with wood and metal alongside his master tradesman father (who also authored high school and college-level textbooks on metal working), Little never really thought of it in any kind of serious way.
“I’ve loved to draw and doodle on the margins of homework,” Little said on Sunday. “And when I was 10, I got into wood carving, making little toy soldiers. But at 15, I discovered skateboarding and didn’t do anything for the next 10 years until my knees blew out.”
Forced by a torn ACL into a six-month recuperation and meniscus rebuild, Little returned to the artistic tinkering of his youth.
“I started incorporating wire for ornamentation for articulating parts,” he said. “One day, I made a wire chair for a little marionette puppet and that was the midget epiphany. As soon as I made that three-dimensional design, I realized wire had a real sculptural value.”
Without any kind of formal art training, Little just started tying his creations to street sings. He kept wire and coil on him at all times — even going so far as to sneak it into his then day-job at a government compliant biotech lab in Sorrento Valley.
“It was my stress ball,” he recalls with a laugh.
Now known as “the wire bender,” Little worked out of the Glashaus in Barrio Logan until the San Diego Fire Marshall shut it down in the wake of the Oakland Ghost Ship fires that killed 36 people.
A three-year KAABOO veteran, Little is back working out of his garage and was responsible for one of the biggest installations in the O’Brien Pavilion this year.
His massive, multi-medium “Horse-Ghost Shrine” was commissioned exclusively for this year’s festival and is homage to all the euthanized horses that have been downed on the Del Mar fairgrounds.
Even though Little’s wire-work currently is being showcased far beyond Del Mar, expect to see him again at future festivals.
“Prior to KAABOO,” he said, “I had never done any kind of event or festival like this. But I think Coachella and Burning Man are making sure that the arts are a part of music festivals. They’re realizing the stimulation that the visual arts bring. I’ve been showing primarily at galleries, which is a completely different, sterile and stifled environment. You just don’t get this kind of jubilance at a gallery.”
Learn more about Little and his artwork at spenserlittle.storeenvy.com.
Originally from Palm Springs, Carly Ealey has lived in San Diego for more than 10 years. In 2016, she painted a 30-foot-tall mural at KAABOO, but even that pales by comparison to the opportunity she was given this year.
“When I was here at the last festival,” Ealey said during a break from painting on Sunday, “I made friends with some people. And apparently, the owner of KAABOO mentioned my name when this space became available.”
The space she is referring is the large, room-filled structure on the fairgrounds commonly known as “the Motel 6 building.”
Previously in an area not open to the public during KAABOO, the festival’s new layout changed all that. And Ealey was called upon to facilitate the makeover.
“So this is now an activated area they wanted to make look KAABOO-esque,” she said. “I sent in some drawings of my style — the girls, the underwater themes — and they were like, ‘let’s do it.’ The whole thing has been super cool.”
Not only is Ealey responsible for the transformation of the enormous building, her art will have the distinct honor of being a permanent fixture at the fairgrounds.
“I’ve always done art since I was little,” she said. “I’ve secretly drawn and painted since I was a kid. I also do photography. And I write. But painting is my real passion.”
Learn more about Ealey and her artwork at carlyealey.com.
Chris Konecki grew up in San Diego and fondly recalls showing his first piece of public art at the Del Mar Fair in fourth grade.
“It was one of those one-point perspective pieces,” he said on Sunday. “You know, the ones all the kids draw. Mine was a road with some power lines running alongside it.”
Things have come full-circle as the three-time KAABOO exhibitor returned to the fairgrounds to once again showcase his art.
Inside the hall, his miniature replications of local landmarks were on display, but he also lent a hand to Ealey (his girlfriend) for her massive undertaking. The artist also is looking constantly to showcase his, as well as his fellow colleagues, art in new and distinct ways.
“I always try to find a unique space,” said Konecki. “I try to look for places that aren’t just white walls in a gallery. We want to do more than that. We want to do big installations, we want to take over a whole building and paint everything.”
He isn’t lying. Konecki is currently responsible for the biggest mural in San Diego, located on the side of a building at 707 Broadway (find it and more murals to explore in central San Diego here). A wild and weird floating cityscape, it (not surprisingly) utilizes a lot of perspective.
The cyclical nature of it all isn’t lost on Konecki. “Weirdly enough,” he said, “I am still kind of known for my perspective. I do a lot of geometric drawings. It started over the last few years with painting small things. I started building my own panels that turned into more three-dimensional building installations, restaurants, bars, and office buildings to now — the biggest mural in the city.”
Learn more about Konecki and his artwork at christopherkonecki.com.
Melissa Walter is originally from New York, but she and her husband now live in La Mesa. Walter moved to San Diego in 2001, stayed for 5 years, and then left again. She recently moved back, and hopefully is here to stay.
Trained as a fine artist, Walter became a graphic designer and science illustrator for many years. She enjoyed a long career working for NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory — doing graphic design, illustration, and designing their educational materials. After almost 20 years with them, she recently took a step back from the majority of her duties with NASA’s flagship X-ray telescope.
“I still do science illustration for them,” she said on Sunday, “but none of the graphic design. I really wanted to pursue my own ideas about art and get back to my roots as a fine artist.”
The multi-faceted artist participates in many different shows around San Diego, and had residencies at Bread and Salt, as well as the 1805 Gallery, earlier this year. She will show in La Jolla next week.
“This is all part of the process as an artist,” said Walter — a second-year participant. “You want to get your body of work out there and have it seen. And I’m actually still in the beginning of that. It was only about two years ago when I decided to step back. KAABOO, as well as all of the events that I’ve participated in, are stepping-stones.”
More than just having her work seen, Walter is enjoying the opportunity to help uninitiated fans foster an appreciation for fine art.
“That’s a hopeful way of looking at it,” said Walter, “but that is the ideal. I think a lot of the people here haven’t experienced an art fair and maybe haven’t ever been to a gallery. So it’s cool to get them into this setting knowing that a lot of them will find interest in the work here.”
Learn more about Walter and her artwork at melissawalterart.com.