Malibu Seen: The Ingenious Artistry of Valerie von Sobel

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Valerie von Sobel’s unique artwork is coveted by local and international art collectors alike.

Malibu boasts some of the world’s finest art collectors, those who are blessed with a keen eye for vibrancy, message, brilliance and style. Many, like local designer Erika Brunson, are snapping up one-of-a-kind mixed media creations, which are now on display at Voila! Gallery in West Hollywood. 

They come from the extraordinary imagination of Valerie von Sobel, who has seen a lot of life and transforms a wealth of experiences into something almost otherworldly. 

She calls them “assemblages” and they are difficult to put into words. 

You’ll find artistically placed “waves” of bright coral engulfing a small figure riding a seahorse under a specimen nautilus shell, fleeing a full jaw of shark’s teeth. 

Every assemblage tells a story. Here, “Tale of the Lost Sung Dynasty” is accompanied by a fascinating yarn, which can’t help but fuel creative juices and set sparks alight. 

Brunson, a world-renowned designer who has put her magic touch on some of the Malibu’s most unique homes, purchased a piece called “Bonaparte’s Spy.” Resembling an owl, the striking assemblage can’t help but catch your eye. It is fashioned from a rare wild turkey feather fan from the 1930s, a piece of a religious relic and a shark’s tooth, among many other intriguing items. 

“It is very clever, very creative and has a wonderful narrative,” she says. “You couldn’t dream something like this up.” 

But Sobel somehow manages. 

Like the fabled feline, she has lived nine lives as a mother, philanthropist, actress, interior designer and now this 73-year old wonder woman has found a new passion setting her sights on imaginative one-of-a-kind creations. 

It’s been a long time coming. Sobel spent her early years in Hungary, but fled to Canada during the Soviet uprising. She made her way to California, and Hollywood was captivated by her beauty and style. Self-taught from a very young age, she landed roles in films like “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” with Jimmy Stewart. She married and had two children. But, her life would be forever changed when she lost her teenage son to a brain tumor. This would lead to her commitment to the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation, which has helped thousands of families with terminally ill children in financial crisis. 

After a trip to Turkey, she discovered how to express herself in the most brilliant way. 

“I am comfortable with self-taught as I know no other way, having not even finished high school,” she explains. She tapped into a “lifetime of aesthetic observation of texture, color, proportion and originality.” 

Soon she found herself creating eye-popping, jaw-dropping treasures, which caused an immediate sensation. 

“I am pleased to see strong reactions both positive and negative,” she says. “To react to anything visual or auditory should be visceral. I know that to be true in my case.” 

One extraordinary piece followed another composed from fabric, text, bones, shell fragments, even antique medical tools. 

“I find my materials from the gutter, from Ebay, auctions, even the hardware store. There’s a kernel of perfection and you can always find something extraordinary.” 

But it’s the way she puts these random objects together and gives it a story that lends such a sense of originality. And you can be sure there will be more from this talented Renaissance woman who even astonishes herself through this new form of expression. 

“We are a channel and surprised at times and even dazzled by what we conjure up. I never thought at this age I would be so excited about something else, not a man, not a meeting,” she says, adding, “I feel I have come full circle. This is a late life gift and the process holds me captive in the best sense.” A Curious Case of Valerie von Sobel is on view at 518 N. La Brea through March 7. For more info, check out valeriesobelart.com