‘The Artist at Home’: La Jolla exhibition re-creates creative spaces for an immersive experience

The studio of Kim MacConnel, where an installation for "The Artist at Home" is in progress.
The studio of Kim MacConnel, where an installation for “The Artist at Home” is in progress.
(Jean Lowe)

Sometimes referred to as an artwork’s first frame, the homes in which artists reside and hone their crafts can provide a glimpse into the creative process otherwise kept private.

But an upcoming exhibition at the La Jolla Historical Society will, through partial re-creations and photographs, provide an in-depth look at these spaces. Titled “The Artist at Home,” the exhibition opens Saturday, June 17, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 3, at the Wisteria Cottage gallery, 780 Prospect St.

Co-curated by La Jolla Historical Society Executive Director Lauren Lockhart and independent curator Joey Herring, the exhibition is intended to explore how these spaces influence artistic production and collaboration, and what they reveal about the modes of living and being as an artist.

“In my earliest experiences being in artists’ studios, and being able to do a studio visit with an artist where you’re learning about their work in their space, asking questions and observing, it always felt like such a privilege to be invited into these private spaces,” Lockhart said. “That was the seed for this exhibition.”

To re-create the experience, the exhibition will transform Wisteria Cottage into rooms that might be found in the homes of four participating artists.

For example, Lockhart explained that artists Jean Lowe and Kim MacConnel, who are both independent artists and a married couple, have created a “collaborative installation” that replicates the artistry that fills their own house.

“Their home is filled with their own objects, hand-painted furniture, curtains and rugs that they have created, and they’ll create some elements of that for this installation,” Lockhart said. “They’ll even play with the fireplace [in Wisteria Cottage] as well with some original objects at that site. So, you’ll be immersed in a living room that’s all hand-created by them.”

Similarly, artist irmaSofia Poeter is an artist based in Tecate, Mexico, whom the Historical Society has commissioned to create a room-size installation that has “lots of different elements of her sculptural work,” Lockhart said.

Ceramist Irene de Watteville will create a tabletop installation “that has a surrealist feel to it, that will invite you into her kitchen space,” Lockhart said.

Irene de Watteville in her studio.
Irene de Watteville in her studio.
(Joey Herring)

Complementing these whole-room installations are photographs of artists from throughout San Diego and Baja California in their studio spaces and their homes, many by Herring, including those of Beliz Iristay, Einar and Jamex De La Torre, Johnny “Bear” Contreras, Marisol Rendón and Ingram Ober.

Furthermore, photographs of artists from across the country will be on display, on loan from the Historic Artist Homes and Studios program facilitated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“I think this exhibition is drawing upon a centuries-old fascination with artists’ studio spaces,” Lockhart said. “For years, theorists and some artists have said that the site where an artwork is created is the most important site to the work. [French artist] Daniel Buren wrote about the studio being the most important frame, the original frame, for the artwork.”

In producing the exhibition, she added that she hopes visitors will develop a curiosity about the spaces “where the experimentation happens to create a work and get a glimpse of some of the ideas and the influences that have gone into creating an artwork, as opposed to when we often see it in a museum space, it’s separated from those original influences.”

Beliz Iristay in her studio.
(Joey Herring)

Lockhart also hopes to showcase La Jolla as a “haven for creative practitioners of all types” and the spaces found in San Diego’s backyard.

The exhibition includes nods to the Green Dragon Colony, an artist colony built more than 100 years ago in La Jolla, and plays off the fact that Wisteria Cottage itself is the one-time home of Virginia Scripps, sister of La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps.

“I love the idea of trying to share that experience, particularly here at Wisteria Cottage because we are not a white wall, clean, modernist exhibition space,” Lockhart said. “I think that’s something that makes our Wisteria Cottage so unique and wonderful. It’s a space where there is history as a residence and as a bookstore. We have a fireplace in the main gallery, we can see the change in the elevation of the flooring that shows where the kitchen was when Virginia Scripps resided here. And I think it’s really fun to play with that history of the space with the installation.”

She also said she hopes the exhibition will inspire people to go seek out spaces that are open to the public “that might exist and that deserve to be documented and preserved,” she said, citing the home of artist James Hubbell in Santa Ysabel, which is open for public tours.

Accompanying public programs will include guided tours of regional artist’s homes and studios, and a lecture and book signing by Historic Artist Homes and Studios director Valerie Balint.

Admission to “The Artist at Home” is free during public hours of noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Learn more at