Framing a life in art

Buying the Fast Frame business in Cross Creek, says artist Chris Cavette, was like a homecoming. Although his life has taken a circuitous route, his roots were always firmly planted in art and in Malibu.

“At 19, I went from Malibu Beach to Fort Ord, then Fort Lewis, where it rained every day. Then Vietnam for a year,” he says. “When I got out, I moved into a trailer in Latigo Canyon, and I started to paint again.”

The son of two artists, Cavette grew up drawing and painting but didn’t take it too seriously. “I guess it came too easily. When you’re young, you don’t value what comes naturally.”

So he focused on music for about 10 years, playing rhythm guitar and singing with a small rock group that played locally and toured.

“I lived on Point Dume in a bus with my dog. He couldn’t go on the road with me so I had a dog sitter,” Cavette remembers. “The bus had padded walls so I could play and sing and not bother anybody.

“We traveled across the country in a line of station wagons — mine broke down more than once — and we played the Malibu Beach Club and the Holiday House, in the old days before it was Geoffrey’s,” he says.

“For 10 years I waited tables at Alice’s. I just barely made a living, so then I figured I’d do something more productive, like acting. Right,” he laughs.

His acting career was not a stellar success. “I did about a year of going out on interviews. I got a lot of callbacks and wound up getting one commercial,” he says. “It got so frustrating.”

Between interviews, he needed to eat a little something, keep up his strength. So he turned to picture framing because he wanted to be around art. “I went back to my art roots, started painting again.”

He got a job selling frames at a Fast Frame store, which he says made perfect sense. “It was costing me an arm and a leg to frame my paintings.”

Like most artists, he remembers the first piece he ever sold. “When I first was selling picture frames, I asked the store manager if it was okay to put one of my pictures up in the gallery,” he says, allowing that he had no idea how to price it. “I put $300 on it. It was the first one I thought was good enough. It sold the first week.” After that, he says he put up another, and it just took off from there.

Then, last summer, he had the opportunity to buy the Malibu Fast Frame. “My father helped purchase the business. Now I have all the frames, and I got an art supply store along with it.” He plans to expand the art supplies, which he says are mostly student-grade supplies. “Serious artists want better brushes, Kolinsky sable.”

And all this seems naturally to have turned his thoughts to teaching, which he thinks would be rewarding. He’s been asked to have classes and is planning some three-hour workshops after the first of the year. “Watercolors, I know,” he says. “I know I can teach that, but I would get someone else to teach oils. I’ve talked with Bobbie Moline Kramer, an oil painter who teaches at California Art Institute, about teaching here. She has a great way of teaching. She tells students, ‘Warm versus cool, bright versus dull, light versus dark, if you have those in every picture … ‘

“My approach is a lot of water, a lot of color and big brushes, so you get a nice juicy wash. That way, you won’t have a tendency to pick at the painting like you do with a small brush. Watercolors are not exact,” he explains. They were originally meant to take an impression of a scene quickly, which the artist would then take home and do again in oils.

“The first thing you do is a value sketch. It’s a map showing the degrees of light and dark, which is fundamental to watercolors,” he says. “With oils, you can go back and put white paint on top, but watercolors can’t go on top. You have to mark off the light areas with frisket.”

But it’s more than just technique. Cavette says he likes to paint outdoors rather than from photographs because the time of day, the temperature, the light all affect the way one sees colors. “You are responding to your feeling,” he says, pointing to a large painting of a tree brushed with orange and deep reds. “The tree wasn’t orange, but it was so hot, I was out there three hours sweating, so I saw it in those hot colors.”

Many kids have talent, Cavette says, but they don’t always value what comes easy to them. He admits that he didn’t.

“It’s a God-given talent. Each one of us has a special one, but it’s our job to search it out. If I stay in shape, I can paint forever. I really do have a passion for art. It’s such a satisfaction. It’s like meditating.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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