If you head to the beach in Santa Barbara this summer, you might stumble upon an outdoor display by world-renowned artist Tom Fruin. His brightly-colored sculptures, made of reclaimed plexiglass, bring a new perspective to common shapes and designs.
Fruin grew up on the beaches of southern California, studied at UC Santa Barbara and now lives in Brooklyn.
“When people ask where I want my work to be, it’s always near water,” Fruin said. “Something about the light near water and the reflectiveness, and, of course, being from California, the ocean is really what I consider home.”
The artist is known for creating large public art displays that transform ordinary shapes like houses, water towers, and windmills into something new and thought-provoking. His preferred material is salvaged plexiglass. He gathers colorful scraps and welds them together into new designs.
“Using materials that I’ve found around town has always been kind of my mode,” Fruin said. “I think mainly because I’m a little bit scrappy, it’s free, it’s abundant, and I’m inspired by my surroundings.”
One Santa Barbara local who saw Fruin’s exhibit called 'Camouflage House,' currently at Arroyo Burro Beach—also known as Hendrys Beach—had this to say about the sculpture: “I love the concept that it’s made from recycled products, that’s really good to utilize that in a positive, productive way.”
Sarah York Rubin directs the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts & Culture. She partnered with the county parks department to bring Fruin’s sculpture to Santa Barbara, specifically to Arroyo Burro Beach County Park—with its sight line to UCSB’s Campus Point.
“We try to have a deep local element to all of the art we produce and host,” said York Rubin, “and [Fruin] went to UCSB, [so] he’s a...native.”
The Office of Arts & Culture contracts with the city of Santa Barbara and the state of California to provide art services to the community. It gives out grants and runs arts-related programs, and coordinates the county’s “Percent-for-the-Arts” program, which allocates 1% of capital construction project budgets to a fund for temporary and permanent exhibits.
According to York Rubin there’s a lot to consider when placing sculptures around town. They must be at easily accessible, safe locations, and in the time of COVID-19, outdoors with plenty of room for distancing.
“As we looked at ways of engaging with people, this seemed like a very accessible way to do it, just knowing that there’s a large block of space,” York Rubin said.
'Camouflage House' is making a temporary stop in Santa Barbara on a California tour. The sculpture is in the shape of a house, but it’s not hard to find—not hidden as the name implies. Local beachgoers are sure to see the kaleidoscopic installation set between palm trees as they make their way to the sand.
Fruin said he used the word ‘camouflage’ because the house has two different faces depending on where you look.
“So if you go to the warmer side if that were to blend in better or you could go onto the cooler, greener, bluer side if that would work, but to be honest they both are outrageously colorful and you’ll never truly blend in,” Fruin said.
Fruin’s exhibits rely heavily on colors blending with natural light, so what you see in the morning is different from what you see later in the day. That’s especially true in Santa Barbara when summer mornings are often gray followed by bright sunny afternoons. Solar lights illuminate the structure at night.
After years of experience, Fruin knows that his public exhibits evoke a variety of reactions from playful to meditative. He suggests that viewers,“look around and maybe just take a moment, take yourself out of everything that’s going on and just sit with it and experience it.”
Following its time at Arroyo Burro Beach, 'Camouflage House' will move to Santa Barbara’s Elings Park later in the summer. You can also find photos and a coloring page for kids on the county’s arts and culture website.
The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from The Shanbrom Family Foundation.