A short story about Colleen Gnos….


Shell Beach artist, Colleen Gnos, is best known on the Central Coast of California for her gold-scaled mermaids painted on surfboards or her idyllic scenes of surfers and breaking waves. Stories of her Portuguese grandfather running a tugboat out of Avila Beach, CA, hunting abalone, and training navy divers in the 1930’s contributed deeply to Colleen’s fascination with the sea. In the last few decades, Colleen has illustrated surfboards for renowned surfers and board shapers, and has shown her paintings across the USA and Italy. She has completed over 100 original painting commissions for private collectors.

Colleen’s vocation as a fine artist, muralist and sculptor took seed as a preteen experimenting with acrylic and oils. In her twenties, she studied painting and drawing at UC Santa Cruz before moving to Florence, Italy for a year. There, she studied figure drawing, painting, etching, and sculpture at L‘Accademia di Belle Arti, an art school founded by Michelangelo.

Since her student days, Colleen has painted large-scale theatrical backdrops for plays, concerts and conventions. One of her most memorable was a Tiepolo sky backdrop and classical sculpture for the play Tartuffe at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, CA starring Jim Parsons. She has accepted mural commissions for over 30 businesses and private homes around the nation. These include an underwater ocean mural featuring a giant kelp forest and all of its aquatic inhabitants at Castillo High School’s aquarium in Lompoc, CA; a 3,000 square foot mural of three-dimensional marble columns and filigreed altars inside St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Dixon, CA; and a 40’x 60’ mural on the side of a fertilizer plant in Woodland, CA. The latter served as an especially poignant tribute to agriculture and depicts her father, a tomato farmer, lifting up a handful of soil to the morning sun.

Since 1999, Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards near Avila Beach, CA has commissioned Colleen to design over 100 wine labels. The winery’s main signage shows Colleen’s depiction of an old Ford driving out of the family apple orchard with resident peacocks preening in the foreground. The winery’s tasting room displays much of her ocean-themed work.

After battling a rare form of bone lymphoma in 2013 and earning a clean bill of health a year later, Colleen felt awash with gratitude and possibility. She picked up her life again and it was soon brimming with a steady flow of art commissions, shows, and graphic design work; the activities of two young sons and a husband who leads his own band; teaching art to school children; supporting local cancer survivors; and surfing every week.

In 2014, a week-long creative retreat in Big Sur led by artist, Joanne Ruggles, spurred Colleen to break with the artistic conventions of classical human forms, realistic backgrounds and a limited palette of carefully mixed hues. She felt moved to play with abstract expression and primary colors used straight from the tube. She incorporated design elements she’d never before considered – broken instrument parts, quilted canvas, and lighting elements. Upon return to her studio, she felt inspired to express her growing passion for music with these new techniques. The result is a series of jazz paintings, featuring musicians that pulse with color you can almost hear.

In 2017, Colleen completed a series of 8 murals that were installed on 2 Avila Beach Lifeguard Towers that illustrate a visual past and the future of Avila Beach. (commissioned by ARTS Obispo, the San Luis Obispo County Arts Council, with funding from the Avila Beach Community Foundation, Chevron, PG&E and the Sara Horne Fund). She is showing in 3 gallery shows this summer: Misfit Gallery in La Jolla, CA (May 2017) and Huntington Beach Art Center (July 2017) & Studios in the Park, Paso Robles, CA (August 2017). Colleen was also voted San Luis Obispo County’s best visual artist of 2016 and was selected as the poster artist for the 2016 Live Oak Music Festival.

“All this has expanded my vision of who I am as an artist,” Colleen said. “Overcoming cancer empowered me to break my rules and experiment with new techniques and mediums.”


To make an appointment at her studio, email her here.

Join me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Colleen-Gnos-Surf-Inspired-Artworks/95689156361?ref=ts

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