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La Jolla art gallery owner turns tragedy into triumph

Life threw her a curve ball that took her from a successful career in real estate to that of art dealer on a mission. Three years ago her brother - a successful doctor in Maui, newly engaged and preparing to run for Congress - took his own life. Later, his family learned he had struggled with bipolar disorder, hiding it for most of his life because of the stigma attached to it.

“I realized what a huge loss to the community this was,” Haman said, “and I didn’t want it to end here.”

She organized a charity art auction to commemorate her brother’s memory, while raising funds and awareness for mental health. The resulting success and feeling of having made a difference convinced Haman to change course. She chose art as her way of bringing awareness to mental health.

La Jolla was the perfect location for Haman to open her gallery. Her husband works in Carlsbad and she has other family in the area. That, and the Jewel’s reputation as an art destination, appealed to her real estate logic. She held a grand opening event on June 23.

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Every aspect of the gallery holds personal meaning for Haman. It is named after her brother, whose middle name was Alexander, and her daughters, Jacqueline and Alexandria. The logo is a Hawaiian symbol called kahanu, which means “a wave of light that literally takes your breath away,” as a metaphor for transformation.

“Because I am going to continue my work for mental illness, I wanted something between mental illness and art, and what that is, is coming out of the darkness and into the light,” Haman said. “Light is such an important part of us intellectually, emotionally, physically.”

Not only is Haman intent on moving out of the grief and tragedy overshadowing her brother’s death, but she wants to shine a spotlight on mental illness which affects one in four people. Her art gallery and the story that lead to its creation offers her a chance to dialogue with people about the issue.

“So many people, because of what I’ve done, have been able to share things with me that they wouldn’t normally be able to open up about,” Haman said.

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Several of the artists featured in J. Alexander Galleries have had life-altering experiences like Haman’s. Most notable among them is Nelson Mandela. The original limited edition lithographs which capture memories of Mandela’s imprisonment on Robben Island are not exhibited in any other California gallery. A special premier featuring his work will be held at the gallery on July 25.

Trevor Mezak, an artist from San Juan Capistrano, met Haman at the New York Art Expo and agreed to show at her gallery. As they became acquainted, he told her about an unusual experience that influenced his perspective on life. He got an urge to surf in an area he didn’t usually frequent, and later, although he’d already left the water, he had a strange compulsion to catch one more wave. Swimming out into the ocean, he saw someone floating in the water. He pulled the man onto his board and tried to resuscitate him. A helicopter rescue was called in after Mezak and the swimmer got to shore.

“Something like that really does make you stop and think,” Mezak said. “It kind of changes you. I don’t know if it simplifies you, but you just appreciate the stuff you have.”

That appreciation extends to his wife and 5-year-old twins. Describing his style as Impressionistic and figurative, his current paintings focus on the ingenuousness of childhood.

“What I like to get across is the innocence and fun and humor . . . and that’s what I want people to get out of them,” Mezak said.

The cozy gallery offers an eclectic array of paintings and sculpture. From Mezak’s enchanting portrayals of children and fragile glass sculptures by English artist Amanda Brisbane to the vibrant cartoon renderings of Chuck Jones and the realistic watercolor still lifes of Eric Christensen, there is something for everyone.

Opening the gallery and sharing artwork has been cathartic for Haman. One of the lessons she learned from her brother’s sudden death was to live every day to the fullest, whether each day was painful or joyous.

“That’s what art is,” she said. “Some art you like, some art you don’t like, but it all gets you to feel something.”

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For more information about exhibits and upcoming events at J. Alexander Galleries, call (858) 454-7110 or go to www.jalexandergalleries.com. A portion of proceeds from projects and designated artwork, such as that of Nelson Mandela, will be donated to charitable causes, including mental health awareness.