Malibu Seen

Weisman Museum director Michael Zakian joins Carolyn Mary Kleefeld for an eye-popping exhibit at Pepperdine. Photo by Ron Hall


Carolyn Mary Kleefeld’s background is as unique and colorful as her artwork. The self-described poet, philosopher, prose writer and visual artist brings an intriguing and esoteric touch to everything she creates. Her creative focus goes beyond ordinary portraiture or run-of-the-mill still life and delves into psychological and spiritual transformation.

Kleefeld’s imaginative works are now on display at Pepperdine’s Weisman Museum. “Carolyn Mary Kleefeld: Visions From Big Sur” showcases 75 paintings and works on paper from ink and watercolor to acrylic and oil.

The artist is continually inspired by her Central Coast surroundings. Although she has called Big Sur home for nearly three decades, Carolyn grew up in Southern California as the daughter of financier and philanthropist Mark Taper. “Carolyn lived in Malibu just before moving to Big Sur,” explains Museum Director Michael Zakian, “so it is appropriate that we exhibit her work here.”

Her style ranges from the romantic to figurative to abstract. Her themes are decidedly different and every piece in the exhibit seems to have its own look and personality. Her oil on canvas called “Monsieur Bob Cat” is done up in vibrant lime green, cranberry red, cobalt blue, and lemon yellow and has a primitive, childlike quality. Her “Celestial Mountain” is a kaleidoscope of color, texture and form while her acrylic ink called “Spying Through Time” features fanciful creatures floating through space.

Fifteen unusual oil portraits cover one wall of the gallery. “That one with the blue eyebrows is me,” says Zakian. While the museum director isn’t exactly a dead ringer for his likeness, that’s not the point. “Carolyn’s concerns lie not in reality, but with what lies within. She looks at the inner personality, the essence.”

As a young woman, Carolyn attended UCLA where she studied both art and psychology. Soon, she began a career in writing and poetry. But it wasn’t until her move to Big Sur in the 1980s that she began to fully immerse herself in what she calls spiritual art. Over the years, she’s gained many fans. Her art is featured in museums and can also be found in the private collections of Ted Turner and Laura Archera Huxley.

The Pepperdine retrospective explores her ever-changing style and offers a compelling glimpse into a fascinating world. Whether it’s her Chagall-esque “Circus Lovers” or linear fantasies like “Cosmic Cartoon,” the work of Carolyn Mary Kleefeld is a sight to behold.

The exhibit runs through Dec. 14 at the Weisman Museum at Pepperdine.

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