A new art space has opened in Solana Beach, the Oolong Gallery, which hopes to inject a little culture and sophistication between two surf shops off Highway 101.
Owner Eric Laine, 45, lives in Cardiff and is from New York City. He has been active in the contemporary art world for 20 years, including 15 years in New York City in various roles as artist manager, gallery assistant and independent curator and art dealer with projects in Berlin, Miami and Los Angeles as a member of the New Art Dealer Alliance (NADA) .
With Oolong, Laine can finally add gallery owner to his curated titles.
At the gallery, he hopes to showcase fine arts with entertaining and interesting receptions and rotating exhibitions every six weeks. In addition to showcasing art, he also hopes to host artist talks, screenings, concerts and events, welcoming established collectors and patrons, newcomers to the arts and children.
“This is a wild start-up,” said Laine. “It kind of came out of left field.”
Oolong got a boost working with “weird transplants like me” Matt Moore and Carrie Marill, whom he met when his son Edgar was in fifth grade at Ada Harris Elementary School.
The couple had relocated to Cardiff from Phoenix during the pandemic and, like Laine, came from an artistic background. Moore, who sits on the board of directors of Creative Capital, a statewide organization that funds art projects, used the Solana Beach space as a showroom for Matteo Goods, his line of designer elevating office desks. Marill also used the space as an art studio before opening the Punkwasp store next door, selling her small-batch clothing and jewelry.
Since Matteo desks were mainly sold online, they no longer needed the space and offered it to Laine, who had had the oolong idea in mind for many years.
With an inheritance from his late father, he decided to take the money and invest it in something worthwhile, both fulfilling a long-held dream and bringing more art to the North County San Diego area.
“The space is beautiful, it looks like a teahouse, so I came up with the name Oolong,” Laine said of the contemporary space that opens to the outdoors.
Since opening, Laine said he’s been embraced by the Solana Beach community, which has been so supportive of his business, and he’s also making connections in the local arts community — Oolong is a green sponsor of the June 25 Greener Gala at the Institute of Contemporary Art Art San Diego (ICA, formerly Lux Institute).
Oolong’s inaugural exhibition, Global Entry, opened on June 4th and will run throughout the summer, bringing together an eclectic group of 13 established and emerging contemporary artists. It was an ambitious first venture for Laine and the gallery: “This show was so much work, I’ve never had a group show that big, nothing of this caliber,” he said.
Artists featured on the show include Bas Louter, an LA artist specializing in innovative mixed media collage techniques; Griselda Rosas, a “local phenomenon” whose watercolors include embroidery on paper and ostrich leather; and Alika Cooper, an LA-based artist originally from Poway who has won awards for her paintings but is breaking new ground with her bronze swimsuit sculptures. Laine’s partner Marill has two pieces on display, as does artist Robbie Simon, who designed the Oolong Gallery’s retro-inspired logo.
“A lot of these artists understand that this is a new market and they’re excited to see how their work is going to do here,” said Laine.
Laine believes the launch was a “wild success” and would not have been possible without the help of his “wonderful” 18-year-old assistant, Margo Yinger, and public relations specialist Olivia Mueller, whom he happened to meet at the Encinitas dog park.
Those who saw the show loved it, Laine said. “It’s very hard to get people out of their comfort zones, but that’s the goal,” he said, noting that he had to convince a few people to go all the way from Cardiff ‘over’ to Solana Beach to travel.
Once he gets people to experience oolong, he hopes this will provide a better understanding of the importance of creating, appreciating and collecting art – he wants to celebrate people who make beautiful things.
“I love the work I’m showing, I’m just a fan of these artists,” Laine said. “Shock and awe are not an issue … Personally, I love the enjoyment of art, I’ll make it fun.”
Laine added, “Let’s see what happens.”
The Oolong Gallery is located at 349 North Coast Highway 101 in Solana Beach, south of Mitch’s Surf Shop and next to Solana Succulents. Visit oolongallery.com or Instagram @Oolongallery for more information