Stumbling Back Into the Art World

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Eamon Harrington, a Malibu resident for nearly 30 years, displays some artwork at his newly reopened gallery on Sunday, April 4.

A popular Malibu art gallery reopened its doors this week to the delight of many locals who not only enjoyed displayed works, but who came to rely on the emotional support it offered after the Woolsey Fire.

The Red Ladder Gallery first opened its doors in the Malibu Village Shopping Plaza as a pop-up in 2018, but proved so popular it stayed on for another year. But it was a year of tumult as the Woolsey Fire ripped through Malibu, destroying homes and upending the lives of so many in town. 

Red Ladder is run by its primary artist, Eamon Harrington, who stumbled into the art world later in life. The 28-year Malibu resident has a successful “bread and butter” career as the co-owner of Malibu-based Planet Grande Pictures. In 30 years of making television shows and documentaries, the father of four has picked up seven Emmy awards for what he called “issue-oriented projects” focusing on Alzheimer’s disease, post-partum mental illness and other sensitive topics. Recently, the company made a film about Malibu local Johnny Strange, who was killed while wing suit base jumping a few years ago. The documentary won highest honors at the Malibu Film Festival.

Ten years ago, Harrington’s life took a turn when he discovered an empty canvas one evening left out by his artist daughter. He said he wondered, “What’s that like?” So, Harrington picked up a paint brush and said he “pushed some paint around the canvas and fell in love with it immediately.” He’s painted every day since, all self-taught.

“I never could draw,” the 66-year-old said of his artistic process. “I probably had a reluctance or inhibition to paint because perhaps, subconsciously, I associated drawing with painting, but of course they’re really two very different things. I discovered the night I started to paint, ‘You know what? You don’t have to draw. You can put paint on a canvas in all kinds of ways.’ It doesn’t necessarily need to be a realistic representation of something in order to be vibrant and vital.”

Most of Harrington’s paintings are what he calls “text based.” 

“I’ve always loved words and have had an infatuation with them,” he said. “I found words beautiful, but that was more in a literary sense. Once I started painting and using words, I found that letters and text can be literally beautiful as well.” Mentioning his Irish heritage, Harrington said his paintings often gravitate towards “a political bent” although the work in his gallery is less so.

The original Red Ladder Gallery not only featured Harrington’s art, it quickly became a community gallery spot, hosting musical performances and readings in the evenings: “You name it. We did it here.” After the Woolsey Fire, it “grew into so much more” when Harrington hosted “The Phoenix Salons.” On a nightly basis, fire victims would gather to “laugh, cry, bitch and moan. Whatever they needed to do. It became a gathering place in the center of town unlike anything else we had here in Malibu.” 

As a sometimes moderator, the painter knew all too well about suffering through a fire. He had a rude awakening just one month after moving to Malibu 28 years ago. That’s when the 1993 fire swept through town. He lost his home after just settling in. At the time, his wife was nine months pregnant with their third child. 

A month ago, Harrington reached out to his landlords again about reopening. 

“The world could use a little healing after COVID,” he remarked about a new art space. Just this week, the Red Ladder Gallery reopened in this “big, big space. I’m blessed and grateful [to the landlords].” Red Ladder Gallery is in what Harrington calls the “Siberia of the shopping center’s parking lot.” But actually, the gallery faces Pacific Coast Highway and is very visible while driving by. You won’t find a big sign, but you will find a big red ladder hanging over the doorway.

Once the pandemic guidelines ease, other artists will be featured, along with Harrington’s work—and as for nightly events, “We can’t wait. It became a shining star of the gallery to sponsor events.  We’ll have music, readings, all kinds of things,” promised Harrington.