Great Architecture Inspires an Artist

Drawing shows Deskin's house by John Lautner, with skylight clerestories bringing light into the living room. To the right, the smaller attached structure is a studio being added. Courtesy of Terry Deskins

It’s been said many times that living in a creatively designed modern house makes people creative. The case of Orange County artist Terri Deskins seems to prove it.

A self taught artist who started painting just over a year ago, Deskins got her first gallery show simply by walking into a gallery near her home and showing the owner photos of her paintings on her iPhone.

Since then she has shown in several galleries and art centers in the area and has work on display through November at the Hugo Rivera Gallery in Laguna Beach.

It’s curious that she only started painting shortly after moving with her husband to a unique abode, part of the only tract – as far as we know – that the great and forward-thinking architect John Lautner ever designed. Or tried to design.

Cat House
'Raku Green Gild Three,' Terri Deskins

“Living in a house like this, it feels creative and it is creative,” she says. “It continues to motivate me to do more art.”

“I love the big open spaces, the big great room aspect, the open ceiling with the big wooden beams. It’s just a very pleasant sort of zen feeling when you’re inside the house,” she says, noting another feature – tremendous views of the harbor, the ocean, and Catalina and San Clemente islands.

The 1969 house was part of a visionary, and as it turns out over-ambitious, plan to turn the area, today an attractive suburb, into something much more substantial. Morris Misbin envisioned Alto Capistrano as a planned community complete with shopping malls, hotels, resort complexes, and “an avant-garde residential development,” in the words of Orange County Business magazine in 1968.

The magazine, in words most certainly penned by Misbin’s PR department, bragged, “The architect for Alto Capistrano is John Lautner, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and in his own right recognized as one of the world’s greatest living design architects.”

Lautner is particularly well known for the flying saucer shaped Chemosphere house that floats in the hills high above Hollywood.

John Lautner's sketch suggests the ambitiousness of the Alto Capistrano proposal.

But the economy fell and not much of Alto Capistrano got built. Deskins, who has followed the tale, says Lautner distanced himself from the failed project. Her home is one of a handful by Lautner that remain, along with a former sales office.

Deskins, whose acrylic paintings sell for $100 to $2,200, is having a great time as an artist – painting, she says, exactly what she loves. She is also adding a painting studio to her home – done Lautner style, of course.

Many of her abstract paintings these days are based on the look of raku, a kind of ceramic ware (which she made in college) that involves “a very crackly effect and the color is usually deeply saturated.” She recreates the look in paint.

“What is it that I really, really love? I love raku, I love woodwork,” she says, “I love straight lines and I love deep, saturated color. My raku series was born.”

Black Eye
'Raku Cobalt Turquoise III,' Terri Deskin.

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