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J Dave Montgomery reveals secret lives of colors in Santa Margarita exhibit 

I’m sitting at The Porch in Santa Margarita with artist J Dave Montgomery, and I probably look high. At the moment, we’re both staring at our palms, searching out the faint blue of veins; examining the hot pinks, orangey reds, and bright yellows that come together to make up “flesh.” 

click to enlarge BRIGHT IDEA:  The art of Santa Margarita artist J Dave Montgomery is energetic, bright, and full of crisp, luscious color you can’t easily ignore. - IMAGE BY J DAVE MONTGOMERY
  • IMAGE BY J DAVE MONTGOMERY
  • BRIGHT IDEA: The art of Santa Margarita artist J Dave Montgomery is energetic, bright, and full of crisp, luscious color you can’t easily ignore.

With his bold paintings, and, now, with this impromptu hand experiment, Montgomery aims to reveal the secret lives of colors.

“If I look at my hand—really look at it—I can see a million colors in there,” Montgomery says. “I like to break everything down into their most basic elements. It’s about color relationships, color abstraction; I’m really only thinking about the color of things.”

Between swigs of a cold afternoon beer (it’s his day off and hot enough to fry eggs on the street), he tells me about his life so far. I’m still thinking about the greens and pinks flowing through my arm.

Groovy.

Montgomery’s tale goes something like this: Once upon a time, he worked as a wedding DJ and lived in a warehouse in Philadelphia. During a trip to Seattle, he fell in love with an awesome woman. Long story short, girl didn’t really fancy guy, so guy went back to Philadelphia lovesick yet hopeful. After probably the world’s only “chance” Skype encounter ever documented (they had a mutual friend in common), guy charmed girl into a long-distance relationship. Guy moved to Seattle. Guy and girl are now wildly in love and happily married in Santa Margarita. They now have two kids, Kieran and Jameson.

click to enlarge THE ART SHED LIFE:  J Dave Montgomery loves to create bright, graphic pieces in his Santa Margarita shed. Sometimes his children Kieran and Jameson (pictured) join him with their own artistic projects. - PHOTO COURTESY OF J DAVE MONTGOMERY
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF J DAVE MONTGOMERY
  • THE ART SHED LIFE: J Dave Montgomery loves to create bright, graphic pieces in his Santa Margarita shed. Sometimes his children Kieran and Jameson (pictured) join him with their own artistic projects.

“We actually got married at The Range and invited everyone here; it was a big event,” Montgomery said. “In Seattle, I was working all the time to try to afford living there, delivering meat in a truck. We kept wondering, ‘Why are we still in this city?’”

Although Montgomery admits that the art world is a tad glossier up north, he’s happy to be making art and raising kids in dusty, eccentric Santa Margarita. His in-laws are longtime locals, and haunts like the Rainbow Hut give area artists a place to shine.

I first encountered Montgomery’s art at a grand opening for Dunbar Brewing Company’s new brewhouse last month (the artist also bartends at the watering hole). 

What I saw quenched my desire for big, bright, and bold: brilliant shapes and colors twisted like a psychedelic kaleidoscope. Skulls in primary colors beamed with haunting optimism. Globular globes chock full of oozing, graphic figures seemed to melt off the wall. 

- GO BOLD OR GO HOME!:  Find J Dave Montgomery’s vivid art currently hanging at Dunbar Brewing Company, located at 2200 El Camino Real in Santa Margarita or visit his site, jdavemontgomery.com. -
  • GO BOLD OR GO HOME!: Find J Dave Montgomery’s vivid art currently hanging at Dunbar Brewing Company, located at 2200 El Camino Real in Santa Margarita or visit his site, jdavemontgomery.com.

The art made be feel both nervous and happy, energized yet on-edge, like sniffing glue or seeing a double rainbow (I experienced the latter during that fortuitous art show). It’s my kind of art.

“My background is in printmaking,” Montgomery said, when I probed into his bold inspiration. “I’ve always been drawing. I ended up in art school as kind of a fluke. I got accepted into Tyler, one of the best art schools on the East Coast. I thought, ‘Well, I’d better go.’”

Montgomery calls printmaking the “indie rock” major, and he has a healthy sense of humor when he talks about earning his bachelor’s degree in the field.

“It’s a lot about the process. Things happen to your print that you can’t really control,” he said. “With etchings, you throw your plate in the acid and you think you’ve done everything you should have done, but if you made a mistake, the acid will eat at it and destroy it. Or, just maybe, it will make it better.”

click to enlarge IMAGE BY J DAVE MONTGOMERY
  • IMAGE BY J DAVE MONTGOMERY

The artist found that when silk screening, one small mistake could cause a huge catastrophe—colors would get mixed up, chaos would ensue, dreams would be dashed and (sometimes) exceeded. In other words, he learned what the band 38 Special has known all along: You’ve got to hold on loosely, but don’t let go.

“Most painters would probably tell me to loosen up,” he said. I’d say he already has. Just look at the artist’s more “goopy” prints, which showcase a haphazard, crackly feel overlaying crisp lines and graphic elements.

Wood stain—a risky medium—is used to break his circular disco balls of color into discordant shards. 

I can’t wait to see what else comes out of the artist’s shed, where he churns out new forms whenever he has a spare moment. When his kids play copycat, he sees more than childish finger-painting. As always: There’s more to life—and art—than what initially meets the eye. 

Montgomery vividly remembers basking in the glow of Renaissance painter Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino while in Italy for a student abroad program.

click to enlarge IMAGE BY J DAVE MONTGOMERY
  • IMAGE BY J DAVE MONTGOMERY

“Raphael is this mythological person, but he is also a person who made a painting,” Montgomery said. “I came to the conclusion that I am also a person. We’re all just people making art, and if we all just keep making art, maybe we will make something that is successful. Maybe we’ll make something that is transcendent.”

Hayley Thomas will never look at her hand the same way again at hthomas@newtimesslo.com.

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