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Laguna Beach

 Volume 13, Issue 30  |  April 13, 2021

“Art in Public Places” – Life Force by Dora De Larios


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

This is the fifth in our weekly series featuring Art in Public Places. Since there are over 100 pieces of public art scattered throughout Laguna, it will take a while to cover them all.

The art you see around Laguna Beach is the result of two City programs: “Public Art and Murals” and “Art in Public Places.” The goals of the Public Art and Murals and Art in Public Places (adopted in 1986) initiatives are to create diverse art installations of the highest quality that will, over decades, reflect the City itself and its citizens, and improve the quality of life; and to be a source of pride to all Laguna Beach residents.

Life Force by Dora De Larios was funded by the Montage Resort and Spa.

It is one of the artist’s largest pieces, and its installation in 2003 was facilitated by Daniels Fine Arts and Evelyn Daniels. 

Art in mural

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“Life Force” at the Montage is one of Dora De Larios’ largest pieces

Cultural Arts Manager Sian Poeschl says, “Dora knew her destiny was art, according to her bio, at age eight on a trip to the archeological museum in Mexico City with her parents – she responded to her cultural heritage and to large-scale works.”

 Measuring 6’ x 30’, Life Force is comprised of blue porcelain with stylized ocean motifs. 

 In this mural, De Larios combines abstract patterns with figurative sculpture with the mythology of “koi,” a Japanese carp. The legend says that if the koi leads an honorable life, it will return to its birthplace and be transformed into a dragon empowered to perform good deeds. The symbolism stirred her – as the creative experience nourished her spirit and her belief in the transforming power of art.

It is said that Larios’ ability to translate universal human dilemmas into mystical and transformative works of art accounts for her international appeal. 

Art in fish closeup

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Mythology of “koi” – a Japanese carp 

Her connection to Japanese myths is quite possibly connected to her upbringing.

Born in Los Angeles to Mexican parents, De Larios was raised in a downtown neighborhood near Temple Street surrounded by Japanese families that spoke Spanish. Her limited use of English hindered her verbal comprehension in school and probably contributed to her use of a visual vocabulary.

The artist’s formal training began at Dorsey High School and then at the University of Southern California.

She felt profoundly connected to her Mexican ancestry. Both pre-Columbian pottery and monolithic stone sculptures played an important role in her decision to work in clay.

After receiving her degree, De Larios took a 13-month trip around the world, where her academic studies of world religions and ancient art came alive and cemented her unique pan-cultural artistic vision.

“I began to see the patterns and similarities between myths in the various cultures,” De Larios said. “There were different names for the deities, but they served the same purpose. They were positive or destructive forces.”

Art in mid range

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De Larios’ outdoor pieces appear all over the world

De Larios’ work energized a wide spectrum of the California landscape; since 1966 she was involved with murals and wall size panels for hotels and public buildings in Los Angeles. 

Creating art with architecture, it is said that De Larios sought designs that would energize, enrich, and humanize public space.

Her public and private architectural commissions are equally impressive. As stated in her biography, most rewarding to the artist was being chosen in 1979 by the City of Los Angeles to create a 6 ’x 26’ cement mural to present as a gift to Nagoya, Japan, L.A.’s sister city. 

Other faraway places boasting large-scale De Larios sculptures include Oahu, Hawaii (Makaha Inn Resort); Percypany, New Jersey (International Pipe and Ceramic Corp.); Orlando, Florida (Disney World); Tetiaroa, Tahiti (Marlon Brando’s resort); and Kona Coast, Hawaii (Kona Surf Hotel).

Art in turtles

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Blue porcelain with stylized ocean motifs 

De Larios sculptures also enrich Southern California parks, government buildings, and private corporations in Anaheim, Camarillo, Carson, Chinatown, Compton, Culver City, El Monte, Hawaiian Gardens, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, Lynwood, Norwood, Pasadena, Rowland Heights, Santa Fe Springs, and Santa Monica.

“Dora passed away in January 2018, at age 84 and the world is a much duller place for her loss,” says Poeschl.

The Montage is located at 30801 S Coast Hwy.

For a map of Art in Public Places (not every piece is listed), click here.

To apply for the Arts in Public Places program, click here.


Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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