Musician Alpert back in ‘Black’ at Ace Gallery Beverly Hills

Malibu resident Herb Alpert with his installation, “Black Totems,” now on display at the Ace Gallery Beverly Hills. Photo by Graham Howe

The legendary trumpeter will sign copies of his book “Black Totems,” as well as present the second installation of his sculpture work of the same name.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

He has enjoyed chart-topping hits such as 1962’s “The Lonely Bull” with his band, the Tijuana Brass. He’s won eight Grammys and sold nearly 72 million albums worldwide. He’s the “A” in A&M Records-home to The Police, The Carpenters, Carole King and Janet Jackson-and he’s personally guided such proteges as “Call Me” singer Chris Montez to international success.

In addition to his impressive music career, Malibu resident Herb Alpert has painted and sculpted for more than 30 years. This week Thursday, a champagne reception, book signing and brief performance by the trumpeter will take place at the Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills to celebrate the publication of the book “Black Totems” and to mark the second phase of the sculpture installation of the same name.

“He’s foremost a sculptor and he excels at it,” Douglas Chrismas, founder and director of Ace Gallery, told The Malibu Times regarding Alpert’s fine arts work. “He has his very specific engagement with the totemic territory he’s mining.”

For Alpert, “Black Totems” represents the culmination of more than a decade of his work in the sculpting studio, and of living close to nature in Malibu for nearly 40 years.

“We love being next to the ocean and sharing this space with the sea birds and other Malibu fauna. Since I see them every day, that is how these animal forms crept into the sculpture,” Alpert said in a phone interview this week.

While living here may influence his art, indigenous sculptural forms from the Pacific Northwest inspired this particular series of towering, black, bronze-cast totems. Alpert likens the forms to “a copse of trees after rain,” and what began as a group of small models has been scaled up 10- to 18-feet high. Alpert has acknowledged the inspiration of totemic explorations by such modern sculptors as Henry Moore and Constantin Brancusi, and the classicist Auguste Rodin. Merging the sacred and the natural, totemism was also a key element of study in the development of 19th and early 20th century theories of various religions by philosophers such as Emile Durkheim, who studied the Australian aboriginal tribes, and structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss.

Alpert’s evolution as a visual artist stemmed from his encounters with museums, galleries and artists while traveling the world with the Tijuana Brass in the 1960s. Since 1970, Alpert’s art has been featured in solo and group exhibitions worldwide, including a 2001 showcase at Tennessee State Museum and a 2005 sculpture show that opened in New York City and traveled to the Pasadena Museum of California Art.

However, he does not see it as a profession.

“Sculpting is not part of my career as I see it,” Alpert said. “It is just something that I do. It is part of my being. I tend to use 85 percent of my right brain each day, playing the trumpet, sculpting or painting, and doing things that connect inside of me.”

The book features text by art critic Hunter Drohojowska-Philp. “It’s a very beautiful publication,” Chrismas said. “It’s a full-scale book, large so you get a full sense of the imagery. The book also reads conceptually as an adventure in engaging these sculptures in a particular way. It’s only in the final pages that the full resolve of the installation is before you.”

Next up for the busy Malibu resident: Alpert and his wife, singer Lani Hall, will release a new album of jazz-inspired works in September while the BBC will air the documentary “Legends,” an overview of Alpert’s life, on Sept. 17.

But for now, the artist’s focus is on “Black Totems.”

“One of the interesting things for me is that, in our first stage, we sent an announcement that did not depict the nature of the exhibition,” Chrismas said. “They had no idea what they were going to see. One of the most interesting things is that, as they entered the space, they had to go around a wall to get to the main gallery and to get the full hit of the installation. My man at the front desk said that you would hear this gasp.

“No one had a clue that Herb Alpert is making these magnificent sculptures. This isn’t a minor exhibition. Herb Alpert is a major artist.”

For Alpert, the work satisfies him on a more basic level. “Making art for me is about the satisfaction of creating something from deep within. You don’t have to think about it too much, you just do it.”

“Black Totems” will be on display through Aug. 28 at the Ace Gallery, 9430 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills. A champagne and hors d’oeuvres reception will take place Thursday this week, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., when Alpert will sign copies of the new book “Black Totems” (published by Curatorial Assistance).

The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with parking in the building. More information can be obtained by calling 310.858.9090 or online at