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Artists Natalja Kent and Nick McPhail Bring Color and Light to Encinitas

On view at Oolong Gallery’s new location through Jan. 14, the exhibition traces the artists’ movements through the world
Exterior of Oolong Gallery in Encinitas where exhibits "Light Waves" by Natalja Kent and "Place" by Nick McPhail
Courtesy of Oolong Gallery

In downtown Encinitas, an empty warehouse has been transformed into a pop-up space for art. The industrial white walls come to life with a multitude of colorful, large-scale pieces by Los Angeles artist Natalja Kent. Each is a record of a performance: Kent dancing with flashlights in a dark room, her movements captured by light-sensitive chromogenic paper. The open air of the gallery vibrates with the memory of those motions, which are rooted in and inspired by Kent’s experiences swimming in the ocean. 

Art pieces from Natalja Kent's art exhibit "Light Waves" at Oolong Gallery in Encinitas featuring paintings on the walls and a large kaleidoscope
Courtesy of Oolong Gallery

The pop-up is an innovation by Oolong Gallery, a relatively new independent arts space in Encinitas seeking to elevate artists through a thoughtful approach to curation. Kent’s “light paintings” are paired with sculptures and traditional canvas paintings by artist Nick McPhail.

In the front gallery space, McPhail’s works elevate quiet urban scenes, driving the viewer to focus directly on buildings or trees that would typically be overlooked in the bustle of our everyday lives. Brightly saturated, renaissance-era underpaintings provide the framework for his neo-impressionist brush strokes. 

Painting from Nick McPhail's "Place" art exhibit at Oolong Gallery in Encinitas of a residential walkway leading to a grassy hill
Courtesy of Nick McPhail

Walking through the space, the viewer feels the artists’ presence. Kent’s work captures the sweeping curves of her arms and wrists. In the center of the gallery, there is a large prism that reflects and refracts visitors into their own personal kaleidoscope. McPhail and Kent both create pieces that exist as prisms in their own way, capturing light in darkness or obscurity and superimposing memory back onto surfaces through gesture and reflection of color and self.

“[Oolong Gallery] is like live music—it provides perspective and an opportunity for engagement,” says Eric Laine, the owner and curator. “It’s a living organism that provides for artists and the community.” Laine’s focus on “two-person solo presentations,” as he calls them, gives artists space to contextualize their work while also creating dialogue between them.

This particular paired show makes sense in a city tied so closely to the ocean. In the same way that McPhail’s work focuses on the peripheral gaze, the ocean remains part of our own shifting urban vision. Kent’s work is grounded in ocean activism and adoration, emotions shared by the deep-rooted surfing community in Encinitas. 

Both artists record their bodies moving through the world—Kent quite literally captures her own somatic flow, while McPhail abstracts the oft-ignored beauty of his urban explorations. Their unique approaches, meticulous methods rooted in traditional processes, fight quietly upstream in an age where the current shifts dramatically toward the digital realm. The juxtaposition of the urban and the ocean and the transformation of light and memory mirror the community and offer the therapeutic connection that comes with experiencing art in person. 

The show is on view at Oolong Gallery until January 14th.

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