YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

With the kids

A shining talent

At a workshop for families, Greg Pelner will show how he turns tinfoil into art.

September 23, 2004|Jessica Hundley | Special to The Times

Greg Pelner is making a monkey. It's constructed entirely of tinfoil and is just under a foot high, with a long, curved tail, half-moon ears and two gangly arms spread wide, as if it were pleading for a hug.

The artist's hands dictate the shape, adding more layers of foil, and the monkey grows more detailed by the minute. Pelner forms the animal from memory, from the ghosts of monkeys past that have inhabited his paintings, drawings, clay sculptures and marble carvings for the past 30-some years.

"I'm self-employed," Pelner says, looking up from the monkey with a serious expression. "I'm a self-employed artist."

He is indeed. Pelner, 36, who has the developmental disability known as autism, is in fact one of the most sought-after "outside artists" in America. And he will be the featured artist in the upcoming installment of the Emerging Artists Family Workshops series at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Pelner's class, "Foil Forms," designed for family participation, will focus on his tinfoil sculptures.

The workshop is sure to offer an intimate look at the man whose paintings and sculptures, some of which sell for hundreds of dollars, have been shown in galleries and museums worldwide.

His works -- rabbits, horses, vultures, cats, dogs, mice and nearly any other animal that caught the ride on Noah's ark (Noah himself makes a guest appearance in several pieces) -- line the walls of his parents' home, a cozy ranch house in Westwood. It is a virtual menagerie, a floor-to-ceiling display of Pelner's paintings, with sculptures crowding mantles, windowsills and corners.

"Greg's been doing art since we can remember," says Bonnie Pelner, his mother. "When he was little he would paint and draw all the time. We used to keep the tinfoil in a cabinet that was low to the ground, in a spot that he could open. He would always pull it out and start making things with it. He just loved it."

His folk art is marked by bold color and utter lack of inhibition. Viewers have found the candor of Pelner's work remarkably refreshing.

"Greg never goes backward; he never stops to critique or hesitate," explains Ronn Davis, a professor of art at Santa Monica College and one of Pelner's mentors.

"He works completely without self-doubt. He just moves forward with every piece until it's complete and then he thinks of another subject and immediately moves on to the next work. He's just incredibly focused."

Pelner's pictures of people are examples. Bodies appear merely as shape -- thick, buoyant slashes of paint amid vibrant backgrounds. The work is nothing less than gleeful, a joyful use of light and color. And while executed with simplicity, Pelner's paintings resonate with something much deeper.

"I had heard about Greg and was interested in involving him with the museum somehow," says Akusa Hisa, education director for the Santa Monica Museum of Art.

The family workshops seemed ideal. "Foil Forms" will focus on his tinfoil creations, beginning with a brief introduction to his work, followed by a tutorial by Pelner. Each participant will be supplied with materials and encouraged to create a sculpture.

After the class, there will be a quick trip across the Bergamot Station parking lot to the Track 16 Gallery, where one of Pelner's pieces is on display in the "Radiant Spaces: Private Domain" exhibition. The show focuses on work from artists with various disabilities, including autism.

"We love it when we can somehow tie in a gallery show," Hisa says, "so this was particularly convenient, because the kids can see Greg's work in a gallery setting that's just a quick walk away.

"The focus of these workshops is to give kids the opportunity to see how artists do their work, how that work varies in style and how that work is eventually integrated into the community."


Greg Pelner

In class

What: Emerging Artists Family Workshop -- Greg Pelner, "Foil Forms"

When: 2-5 p.m. Oct. 2

Where: Santa Monica Museum of Art, Bergamot Station G1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica

Enrollment info: (310) 586-6488 or

On display

What: "Radiant Spaces: Private Domain" exhibition, the work of more than 60 California artists with developmental differences

Where: Track 16 Gallery, Bergamot Station C1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica

When: Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Exhibition ends Oct. 16.

Info: (310) 264-4678

Jessica Hundley can be reached at

Los Angeles Times Articles