Catalina Island News

Fantasy into Art: The Avalon Casino Murals of John Gabriel Beckman

Catalina Island Museum

Fantasy into Art is the first exhibition dedicated to the murals of the Avalon Casino, which were executed by the artist John Gabriel Beckman during an astoundingly short three month period in 1929, The only remaining preliminary sketches of the Casino murals will be exhibited for the first time, including the original conceptual sketch that convinced William Wrigley, Jr. to commission Beckman for the project. The painted sketches on exhibition — all part of the Catalina Island Museum’s own permanent collection — lend unprecedented insight into the execution and embellishment of one of California’s landmark buildings and provide a rare glimpse into the working method of one of the region’s most respected artists.

Upon his completion of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1927, John Gabriel Beckman earned the reputation as one of the foremost muralists living on the West Coast. Meanwhile, the noted businessman and entrepreneur William Wrigley, Jr. was in the midst of transforming Avalon into a world-class resort; its crown jewel a grand casino building that was to house a state-of-the-art movie palace and a ballroom of immense size. Wrigley’s close associate, David M. Renton, was in charge of planning and executing this monumental feat in a period of just 14 months. Renton had visited Grauman’s Chinese Theatre shortly after its opening, and was so impressed by its murals that he arranged for Beckman to meet with Wrigley. A mere two days after dining with the chewing gum magnate in his plush Pasadena home, Beckman presented him with a conceptual sketch of the Casino theatre’s interior. Wrigley was impressed by what he saw, and selected Beckman for the commission almost on the spot. In order to complete the project on time, Beckman assembled a talented group of artists, who executed the building’s large-scale murals by transferring the scenes depicted by Beckman in a number of modestly-sized painted sketches. The exhibition of these sketches reveal an overall conceit for the murals that is without parallel in any comparable project. The scenes spring entirely from Beckman’s own imagination. Many of the theater’s walls bear murals that are wildly imaginative and depict fantastic scenes that are loosely derived from California’s early history. In contrast to these, the murals on the building’s exterior are utter fiction, and offer a glimpse into an undersea world dominated by towering kelp forests that gently caress the central figure of a monumental but highly sensual mermaid. Highly ambitious in scale and grand in execution, the entire program is reminiscent of the large-scale fresco painting of the Italian High Renaissance. Thus, the Avalon Casino murals have significant meaning, and represent a singularly great gesture by a modern artist to resurrect the artistic traditions of an era long past.

Fantasy into Art will be on view from February 4 through June 17, 2012 at the Catalina Island Museum.

Opening Reception for Fantasy into Art

The Catalina Island Museum invites you to join us for the Opening Reception for Fantasy into Art: The Avalon Casino Murals of John Gabriel Beckman on Saturday, February 4th from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Tickets are free for members of the museum and $5.00 for the general public.

The Catalina Island Museum is Avalon’s sole institution devoted to art, culture and the rich history of Santa Catalina Island. It is located on the ground floor of Avalon’s historic Casino, and is open 7 days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information, the museum may be reached by phone at 310-510-2414 or at its website.