A Collegial Appreciation of Laguna Project Mastermind and BC Space Curator Mark Chamberlain

R.I.P., mentor and friend. Photo by Gina Genis

BC Space curator Mark Chamberlain died April 23. He was 75. In lieu of retelling his accomplishments, so numerous they wouldn’t fit on this page, I asked his local friends and colleagues to briefly write what he meant to them.

Lev Anderson, documentary filmmaker: “A self-proclaimed river rat, Mark relished any opportunity to talk about his boat awaiting him every summer for floats down the Mississippi. [It] had sort of a Huckleberry Finn vibe . . . if Huck were a Vietnam vet, artist, activist, environmentalist, and curator. . . . He lost political battles, but doggedly pursued a future that is socially just, generous and in harmony with nature. I will always appreciate the enthusiasm he showed for my work and that of others in the OC community. [He was] an oversized presence in Orange County with his creative vision, giving spirit and cantankerous righteousness.”

Jacques Garnier, photographer: “Back in the day, when Mark was still printing film with his amazingly complex, cumbersome and continually breaking down Cibachrome machine, we would spend hours tinkering with the machine and talking about art and how the soul of art was more often than not being corrupted by the commerce of art. The making of art, the integrity of art, needed to be completely separated from the sale of art, which is why, in the 40-some years of BC Space, very few sales actually transpired. Mark wanted the exhibitions he curated to be thoughtful and edgy explorations of topics that would open people’s eyes and make people think, deeply separated from the attachment to the almighty dollar sign.”

Gina Genis, photographer: “If someone asked me to sum up my feelings about Mark Chamberlain in one word, it would be admiration. . . . [He was an] activist, artist, photographer, thinker, protector of the environment, lover of animals. Someone who could prevent Laguna Canyon from being developed into a sea of soulless red-tile roofs through his self-described ‘artivism.’ I have countless memories. . . .

One was when the two of us spent a week in . . . an airplane hangar at the abandoned El Toro Marine Base . . . washing the Great Picture (a massive 107 feet 5 inches by 31 feet 5 inches) with a homemade plastic trough and a garden hose. . . . Our philosophically charged lunch-break conversations made the whole experience worthwhile. I made an environmental portrait of him eating a hamburger with Poe the dog at his side in front of the hangar door. It remains one of my all-time favorites. I have a print of it in a place of honor on my living-room wall. I don’t have to say goodbye to Mark. I see him every day.”

Portrait of the artist at work. Photo by Gina Genis

Andrea Harris, curator: “I met Mark during my first days with the Laguna Art Museum many years ago. . . . [He was] the guy who documented the art and exhibitions in Orange County. . . . Over the years of seeing Mark in action as a photographer, curator, activist, writer, adventurer, artist and friend, I knew he was someone who would always hold a special place in my life and my heart. He fascinated me, bemused me with his stories. . . . As I grew in my career . . . most of the exhibitions and books I directed from 1998 through 2013 included [his] photography. . . . Mark and I often discussed the art of living and how we chose to live full-tilt. He appreciated life, the river, the light, and he embraced each day. I will not forget all he gave and all he accomplished. We will carry on. Ahoy.”

Grace Kook-Anderson, curator: “Before the term ‘art and social practice’ became vernacular, Mark’s very nature was to think about art and community in an engaging way. I will forever remember Mark demonstrating for me art’s capacity as a tool for local change. He was in every way an example of an artist who provoked but connected with his audience and community, exuding a deep compassion and tenacious focus on the long view. “

Nick Schou, journalist (and OC Weekly editor): “In the late 1960s, he had just left military service and was taking photos in Laguna when the great Christmas Happening took place in 1970 and the hippies held a three-day music festival. He said the law-enforcement response to the event was the closest thing to combat he actually saw, and his photographs epically capture the wild times and helped me imagine them as a writer. Without his pictures, people might not believe anything that crazy ever took place in Orange County. Mark was a kind and gentle soul and always a great source of info on environmental issues in OC, and his gallery BC Space was a vital part of Laguna’s cultural scene.”

Kevin Staniec, curator: “I had the pleasure of collaborating with Mark Chamberlain on many projects, but what I cherished most were our conversations. After a long day navigating red tape, I asked Mark how he pushes forward with his advocacy for the arts and our community despite the many hurdles. Mark’s response was perfect: ‘When I was younger, I thought everything was a sprint. I later learned to pace myself for a marathon. At this point, I realize this race is a relay, and I look forward to passing the baton.’”

A memorial honoring Mark Chamberlain’s life and work will be held at Neighborhood Congregational Church, 340 St. Ann’s Dr., Laguna Beach. June 3, 2 p.m.

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