A new book celebrates the life and work of Gregory Hawthorne, an artist whose name has been
synonymous with Big Sur and West Coast art for the greater part of six decades.
“Working Outside the Box – A Look into the Mind, Art and Life of Gregory Hawthorne” takes a deep dive into Hawthorne’s life as an artist, gallery owner, civic leader, husband and father. It was written by local author, Michael Chatfield, a frequent contributor to Carmel Magazine.
Hawthorne was a precocious artist as a child in Orchard Lake, Michigan, but it wasn’t until his architect father expressed approval of his work that Hawthorne felt sure he could be a success as a professional artist.
“My father was a very critical architect, very successful and top notch in his field, and I’d bring him paintings and he would say ‘Yeah, that’s nice, keep working at it kid.’ Then finally, one time I brought over a couple of paintings and he looked at them and stood up and shook my hand and said ‘Congratulations, you made it,’ ” Hawthorne recounts.
“That was a big moment for me as a young kid, to hear my father give that compliment was huge. He had a very critical eye when it came to the arts and he had great taste. At that moment, I felt that I could definitely make a living at it.”
Hawthorne started his career in an unorthodox way, selling his art wherever he could—outdoor art shows, malls, friends’ homes. Following this unconventional path, he was able to support himself and his wife, Susan, while she finished her studies. Rather than seeking out gallery representation, Hawthorne traveled the eastern, southern and central United States and participated in invitation-only, high-end juried art shows. He enjoyed handling the sales of his artwork at the shows, as it allowed him to forge personal relationships with his clients. Clients became friends and friends became family. Hawthorne credits these relationships as a cornerstone of his career.
During a visit to Big Sur in 1974, Hawthorne envisioned a life amid the area’s dramatic beauty—a family home, a studio, a gallery. It may have only been wishful thinking at the time. But when the perfect piece of real estate became available, the Hawthornes jumped at the opportunity. The young family left their home in Michigan for Big Sur in 1982 and quickly became a part of the local community. In order to spend more time with his growing family, Hawthorne gave up traveling to art shows and found gallery representation in Florida, Michigan, Chicago, Sausalito and Carmel.
Hawthorne realized his dream of having a gallery on his Big Sur property in 1995, with the help of famed architect Mickey Muennig. For the past 26 years, the gallery has remained an integral part of the Big Sur landscape.
In 2010, Greg and his artist brother Chris opened a second Hawthorne Gallery in Port Orford, Oregon. The Hawthorne galleries are a family affair—representing the brothers, close family members, including Greg’s children Taylor and Shelby, and a selection of non-family artists. Chris runs the Oregon gallery, adjacent restaurant and boutique hotel—with just a single hotel room—overlooking the rugged Oregon Coast.
Greg Hawthorne also is well-known for his dedication to the smallest city on the Central Coast, Sand City. He is a city council member and one of the founders of the West End Celebration. His Sand City warehouse and fabrication facility—where Taylor and Shelby work—typically are open to the public during the popular annual festival. One of his massive sculptures graces the plaza of The Independent, a mixed-use building.
In “Working Outside the Box – A Look into the Mind, Art and Life of Gregory Hawthorne,” author Chatfield’s captivating stories are accompanied by striking examples of Hawthorne’s work, curated by museum and gallery professional Brittany Bradley. Together they chronicle Hawthorne’s artistic journey decade by decade. From two-dimensional tonal works on Masonite in the 1970s, his work shifted to a more colorful palette and expanded to include three-dimensional works on board and free-standing sculptures. Hawthorne describes the change:
“In the 1980s my work became more sculptural. I was working in three dimensions, in collage format. I used everything—burlap and other materials such as painted paper and sometimes painted wood.”
Though he is first and foremost a painter, Hawthorne’s work began to escape those confines in the early 1990s. Mike Freed, founding partner of Post Ranch Inn, asked Hawthorne to create art for the project. The first piece for the property was the sign, a sculpture titled “The Three Faces of Post.” The owners and investors were extremely pleased with the piece and asked Hawthorne to create more art for the grounds and also furniture for the resort’s Sierra Mar restaurant. When Hawthorne went to architect Muennig to discuss paintings for the interiors, he was flabbergasted to learn that he did not want paintings at all.
“Mickey was adamant about not having any paintings on
the walls of the rooms,” Haw-thorne recalls. “I asked what kind of art would fit into his vision. He said, ‘Rusty metal sculpture.’ That’s what got me into doing sculpture.”
The new book details the evolution of Hawthorne’s work, showing the playful turn it took in the 1980s, 1990s and beyond, with sculptures made of a wide variety of media. Far more than just the “rusty metal” requested by Muennig for the Post Ranch Inn, Hawthorne has created sculptures in a wide range of materials—painted polyurethane, fiberglass, bronze, steel and a combination of densite, wood, cotton and acrylic.
In the 1990s, Hawthorne began to tackle much larger works. His first forays into sculpture were on a human scale, designed for interiors. By the 1990s, many surpassed 10 feet in height, gracing corporate buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. The 2000s brought the opportunity for even larger public works of art, including the seven-ton, 20-foot steel sculpture at Sand City’s Independent.
Hawthorne shows no sign of slowing down. He is as prolific now as he was in his early years.
When asked to reflect on his career, Hawthorne is sanguine, “Each year brings something that’s pretty exciting.” And this year, Hawthorne exudes excitement and pride for the new book that documents his life and work as an artist.
“Working Outside the Box – A Look into the Mind, Art and Life of Gregory Hawthorne” is available through the Hawthorne Gallery on Highway 1 in Big Sur. For more information, visit www.hawthornegallery.com or call 831/667-3200.