Wednesday, January 16, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 45

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on February 21st, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 51 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 51

Solvang artist Laura Scandalis Cross takes a playful look at life


A visit to Laura Scandalis Cross’ Solvang home and makeshift studio first starts with a greeting from Betty.

Betty is Cross’ dog, who’s ready to inspect any visitor approaching the front door. Once she’s satisfied with an offering of pets and dog-friendly affirmations, she retires to the welcoming space of Cross’ living room, adorned with the whimsical and vivacious art that defines her. The only other thing more inviting than Betty is Cross herself, who is eager for company and to talk about art.

Artist Laura Scandalis Cross’ lifelong passion for art was reinvigorated after an art retreat at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. “My instructor said he had the easiest job in the world,” Cross said. “All he had to do was encourage us to paint.”

Cross, a multimedia artist originally born in Atlanta, moved to California when she was very young and made Southern California her home. She attended UC Riverside, where she met her husband. She said art was always a peripheral part of her life.

“I’ve always sketched and painted and built things,” she said. “Anything creative with my hands and my vision, without any patterns or photographs. Everything just comes out of my head.”

Cross said she went to school to become a professional in the field of speech pathology and audiology and has certainly made an impact in that field. She started a company in the 1980s, which eventually went on to become the largest private practice speech clinic in California. By 2000, she decided to sell her practice and enter what she calls “semi-retirement” (Cross still consults occasionally).

“At that point, I thought, ‘Now I can paint,’” she said. “I went up to Esalen and they had an art class. This was my 60th birthday present to myself.”

The Esalen Institute is a nonprofit retreat center located in Big Sur, which specializes in alternative education and mind-body connectivity. Cross’ class was taught by an instructor who immediately encouraged her talent.

“He said, ‘Here’s your instructions: Paint,’” Cross said. “That was it. For a week, in that divine, spiritual place, I just got into that. I realized what I liked, what colors I liked—I just dug into me.”

Her paintings are filled with an almost surrealist delight in the absolute. She paints with a giddy giggly vigor that explodes onto the canvas in color and flair. That work is strewn around her home, vibrant hallmarks both to her fascination with the foreign (she has several scenes painted of distant locales she’s visited or admired in books) and her love of nature and the tactile.

Cross has a strong eye for texture; some of her work incorporates 3-D elements, including a painting with long wisps of straw-like grasses coming off the canvas. The work also incorporates the use of acrylic fingernails to simulate ladybugs.

She knows it’s all a bit mischievous, and she revels in the effect on viewers. But the playful work also hides an unusual insight into the artist’s background. The kinetic work, one of a series, is titled after a man named Eric, a speech pathology patient she worked with years ago.

Cross paths
Laura Scandalis Cross’ next show is set for April 14 at Los Olivos Grange, 2374 Alamo Pintado. For more information on her work, visit
Laura_Scandalis_Cross or call (805) 637-0939.

He was a young traumatic brain injury patient of Cross’. Eric suffered an injury that caused his heart to stop for four minutes. Before that, he had been a robust outdoor sports enthusiast, Cross explained.

“[He enjoyed] every aspect of nature’s magnificent offerings as well as using his considerable intellect to benefit the lives of less the fortunate,” she said.

The first in the series, Eric I, hangs in the business offices of his parents. Now, Cross is seeking to devote herself full time to her art, exploring local gallery show options and sharing work on her website. She paints regularly, with a collection of ever-growing works in progress.

“The muse tells my hand where to go, and I just follow,” she said. 

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is Betty’s new friend. Contact her at

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