Front desk with two lamps and art behind

Photo by Rebecca Webb

Art That Draws Inspiration from the Coast

How the beauty — and fragility — of Oceanside’s greatest natural resource sparks the creativity of local artists.

The Pacific has inspired many people in Oceanside — the surfers who ride its waves, the fishermen who plumb its depths, the beachgoers dazzled by its kaleidoscopic waters at every sunset. 


That same water has also inspired artists, many of whom are so drawn by the area’s beauty and uncommon light that they’ve settled here permanently, making Oceanside a burgeoning center for creativity. In 2017, the city was recognized as one of the state’s first officially designated cultural districts, thanks to its eclectic emerging cultural scene. 


It’s not just the beauty of the water that spurs creativity — many local artists are moved to communicate its vulnerability. “Art can be powerful in its ability to connect us to a place and shape our understanding of the surrounding environment,” says Courtney Mattison, a Los Angeles–based ceramic artist and sculptor whose works capture the physical beauty of the imperiled ocean. Her piece Our Changing Seas VII, which hangs above the reception desk at The Seabird Resort, is a constellation of 350 individually handcrafted ceramic pieces whose fragility evokes the brittle bodies of living coral. 


“The work celebrates the immense biodiversity of coral reefs while raising the specter of climate change,” says Mattison, who has a master’s degree in marine science. “Vibrant tones and textures of healthy reefs are juxtaposed against white glazes, emphasizing the stark contrast of coral bleaching. Viewers may feel as if they are hovering over the seafloor and discovering details from every angle.”


Mattison is among many artists whose ocean-inspired works can be viewed at The Seabird and its sister resort Mission Pacific, a rotating collection curated by the Oceanside Museum of Art. From surrealist paintings to photorealism, the art at the hotels is connected by a focus on sustainability and the local environment, particularly the ocean. “The OMA did a wonderful job selecting contemporary works from local artists with meaningful ties to local ecology and culture,” says Mattison.  


For example, San Diego–based artist Akiko Surai used rope — a material closely associated with the ocean — in her work Pacific Stratum, which hangs outside at Mission Pacific’s Rooftop Bar. The colorful, fibrous shapes evoke jellyfish or perhaps cells under a microscope, and change as the sun moves across the sky. Michelle Montjoy, who lives and works in Oceanside, transformed t-shirts she sourced in local thrift stores into Chorus, an installation of dangling sculptures that emulate swaying ocean life (spot it in the pre-function space at The Seabird). 


For Presence of Mind, an elegiac collection of 33 watercolor-painted cyanotypes — a photographic print with a distinctive blue color — in The Seabird’s lobby, San Diego artist Annalise Neil fastidiously photographed natural items both large and small along the Oceanside coastline. “This work is built entirely from the visual fabric that makes up the wild regions surrounding Oceanside, from the creatures of the sea to the rippling lagoons,” she explains. “I’m passionate about the wilderness of this ecosystem, and believe it must be noticed and loved in order to be protected and kept healthy.”







Chorus by Michelle Montjoy