MOUTHFULS OF ART: Sharks of all colors and sizes cover the walls at Breakfast Culture Club, where Lorien Stern’s ceramic carnivores commingle with coffee drinkers.

Art is … a ceramic shark head? In a town where art can be stuck in old styles and definitions, a polka-dotted, smiling ceramic shark, emerging in relief from the white wall of an art gallery, can be an energizing, palate-cleansing, even eye-opening experience.

Lorien Stern, a former Ojai resident now residing in the Mojave Desert, specializes in refreshing. Her wall-spanning array of 23 shark heads, ranging from baby sharks to big, imposing ones with a few hammerheads thrown in for good measure, are an immediately engaging, delightfully intriguing magnum opus of ceramic construction.

If you’re afraid of sharks, there’s probably nowhere safer to be than the Mojave Desert. Nonetheless, Stern found herself contemplating sharks. Naturally fearful of them, she discovered a way through her art to disarm her fear. The underlying theme of her work is to find the harmony in life that makes unhappy, disturbing images approachable. She accomplishes her goal by combining a lollipop sense of color with streamlined composition and shape. The work is amusingly displayed at the perfect gravity-defying height that summons the image of a shiver of sharks — yes, that’s the term for a group of sharks — stealthily emerging through the gallery walls.

Stern lives in a desert playland and art factory called The Land, her family’s 40-acre property on the northern tip of the Mojave Desert. The property is a repository for boats, an old fire engine, an army truck, a big rig, tractors, motorcycles, and trailers, all in various states of function and repair. Dad was a jeweler and specialized in energy and alchemy — the perfect heritage for a transformer of sharks. After he passed away, his stuff was stored in a number of wrecked cars scattered around the property. Stern can walk out into the desert, open a rusty car door, and find a trove of childhood memorabilia and relics from her dad. The Land is surrounded by ghost towns and is famous for its proximity to the Trona Pinnacles, weird drip castle rock formations produced hundreds of years ago when the Mojave was an ocean. Innumerable shark teeth have been found at various sites in the desert sands.

Stern works in the dry 118-degree heat. She set up a screen-printing studio and a music room inside an old double-wide trailer and a ceramics studio inside a shipping container that once functioned as a military control room. As she manufactures her work “Ice Cream,” her pet duck follows behind.

The gallery at Breakfast Culture Club at 711 Chapala Street is one of the few well-designed multi-use galleries in Santa Barbara. A self-proclaimed clubhouse for creative people, it’s filled with curated retail, surfboards, specialty books, and an innovative, well-thought-out plan for the presentation of new artists. A recent group show was very popular and sold remarkably well. The art gallery and café have a unique creative vibe that allows for longer-duration shows of art including photography and, well, sharks.

Stern’s work, with its themes of discomfort and fear transformed into goofy approachable objects, is shown to great effect at Breakfast. Inspired by the clarity of the midnight stars and super sharp lines of the desert, she skillfully executes engaging, irresistible concepts in her lighthearted, emotive work.


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