By Bonnie Gangelhoff
The picturesque town of Carlsbad, CA, nestles quietly near the Pacific Ocean just north of San Diego. Once known as the Avocado Capital of the World, the seaside locale is home to a world-famous spa, quaint antique shops, and the studio of painter John Asaro.
Asaro built his home with the cream-colored stucco studio in the back yard 15 years ago. In spring, brilliant pink and red bougainvillea flowers climb across the studio entrance, and a banana tree stands like a leafy sentinel at the front door. Mexican tile steps cut a pathway from the studio to the home that he shares with his wife, Janet, and two teenage daughters, Amber and Devon.
Asaro has incorporated a minimalist aesthetic into the 600-square-foot space—an aesthetic that his wife, an interior designer, is fond of challenging on occasion. “She keeps trying to sneak rugs in here for the floor,” Asaro grouses good-naturedly. “But I like the space the way it is.”
To his way of thinking, the key element in the studio is the ability to control the bright Southern California light that floods the space almost daily. As Asaro talks, he points to two 8-foot-high windows that face each other. “I have warm light coming in from the south because the sun is on the south and cool light coming in from the north. The mixture creates a perfect light. When it changes I can adjust the mini-blinds,” he says.
Asaro is known for impressionistic and romantic figurative works that are bathed in sensuous light. He has designed his studio so he can paint his models at either end of the rectangular room. And on close inspection, a visitor soon notices that almost everything in the studio is mobile. “I count 17 separate items in here on wheels,” Asaro says, taking inventory.
For starters, there’s a moveable tan-colored sofa that occupies one corner—a posing place for his models, as well as his vantage point for viewing works from a distance. Also, two easels on wheels are present and glide easily across a painted wood floor. So does a floor-length mirror that Asaro uses to study paintings in reverse.
Three hand-carved wooden beams that stretch across the width of the 14-foot-high ceiling are among the few stationary items in an environment where wheels rule. “I copied the beams from some I saw in a Venice fish market and carved them myself,” Asaro says. The beams are in the studio simply because they are Italian, he explains, referring to his heritage.
Is his studio complete? No, Asaro replies emphatically, and he lists a string of possible changes including raising the roof to 20 feet in height. “I never feel like my studio is finished,” he says. “It’s a continual work in progress.”
Featured in “In the Studio” May 2001