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Going Cuckoo : Ex-Businessman Wastes No Time Pursuing His Artistic Talents

June 19, 1993|VALERIE ORLEANS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Paul Kiluk was commuting into Los Angeles every day, he never dreamed that one day he'd give up his business career to become an artist. And perhaps his decision to switch careers was a little wacky, a little cuckoo.

"I have a twin brother who is an artist," Kiluk said. "I always thought of myself as a businessman and my brother as the artist. Then two years ago, I walked into an art gallery and the work there was so incredible that it made the hair on my arms stand up. My brother looked at me and said, 'That's the artist in you. Why don't you let him out?' "

That was two years ago, and since then, Kiluk, a resident of Aliso Viejo, has found a niche for his unusual artistic medium: cuckoo clocks. Elaborate, themed cuckoo clocks priced from $1,400 to $3,500. On display at the Gregory Gallery in Newport Beach, the clocks sell almost as fast as he can make them, Kiluk said.

Kiluk's foray into the art world started quite by accident. But it coincided with his willingness to get out of the rat race. He had been working as a planner and director for several retail businesses, traveling and commuting extensively. Now, his commute is from kitchen to garage.

"A friend gave us an old, beat-up cuckoo clock he'd found at a garage sale," Kiluk said. "My wife, Mimi, didn't even want it in the house, but I was sort of intrigued with it. I took it to my brother but he didn't want to paint it so I decided to do it myself. Then I started fixing it up--adding tinfoil wings and getting more and more elaborate until it looked pretty crazy. But the funny thing is, everyone loved how it looked."

That started Kiluk on his second project--a creation featuring fish swimming in and out of caves and crevices. Because of the positive reception, Kiluk decided to visit a local art gallery and ask the owner what she thought of his work.

"I remember she asked me how long I had been an artist and I told her, 'Two weeks.' I think she thought I was kidding at first," Kiluk said. "But she asked me to create more so she could display them. I was absolutely blown away. I never expected to be taken seriously."

Although that gallery never did display his clocks, Kiluk began thinking of creating these pieces on a larger scale and eventually began selling them in galleries in Santa Monica and Europe.

He's done clocks in all sorts of themes. There is the "Wall Street" clock, produced for a Beverly Hills financial consulting firm. This clock features the buildings of Wall Street and includes details such as the Wall Street Journal, stock reports and moving bulls and bears. Since Hawaiian Airlines was a client of the firm, Kiluk depicts one of their jets flying over the buildings. It's currently on display in the lobby of the corporation.

At the Gregory Gallery, Kiluk has more of his cuckoo clocks on display, including one depicting a red plane in the clouds ("Time Flies"). A jungle-themed clock ("Safari Time") features a menagerie of wild animals including elephants, zebras and giraffes.

Kiluk also has a series of "baby" clocks, featuring chubby-cheeked infants gamboling about on the beach (or other locales at the customer's request) with beach towels, balls, sandals and umbrellas.

Among the most popular clocks are the ones of underwater scenes, featuring fish, coral and sea plants. One on display in the window of Gregory Gallery attracts crowds every half hour who wait to watch the movements of this particular piece. Fish swim and bob through the rocks and the clock appears to come to life as the various mechanisms spring into action.

A favorite of Kiluk's is a piece he's currently working on that features a cabin cruiser on top of a row of waves. The clock itself is covered with an underwater scene (much like the other underwater fish scenes) and a mermaid is perched in a coral cave. The captain of the boat is holding a fishing line with a diamond ring attached in his attempts to lure the mermaid.

"I always try to add little, funny details to the clocks," Kiluk said. "For instance, on the cabin cruiser, I have signal flags with the code 'I wish to communicate with you' displayed."

What Kiluk finds interesting about working with clocks is that they combine logic and creativity.

"For instance, because the clocks have mechanical pieces that need to move, I have to use rational thinking to determine how they're going to work. I draw out the concept to see how it will look," he said. "After I've worked out the logistics, then I have to give up rational thought. I start working on the body of the clock and just keep adding to it until I think it's finished."

The process can take anywhere from weeks to months, depending on the complexity of the project.

"The prototypes obviously take the most time," Kiluk said. "All the pieces are original, but I've done several undersea clocks so I know what will work. The theme may be the same, but no clock is exactly like another."

Kiluk said he ends up feeling close to his clients once he builds a clock for them.

"It's funny, but they almost become part of the family," he said. "One woman told me her son stands in front of their clock each evening so he can say good night to it. I want my work to be more significant than merely a clock. I consider them works of art, and it's my hope that families will treasure them for years to come."

In the meantime, Kiluk is content to work on his unusual cuckoo clocks and watch the reaction they get from those who see them.

"I remember watching one woman looking at one of the clocks and all of a sudden, it started to chime," he said. "Her hands flew up to her face and she said, 'Oh my! It's a clock!' That's my payoff. Watching people smile. It's important to have a little fun and humor in your life."

In addition to being shown at the Gregory Gallery, 3406 Via Lido, Newport Beach, Kiluk's cuckoo clocks will be on display at the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach when the show opens July 8.

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