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Gallery goddess Peggy Zask

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Running an art gallery takes smarts – and passion

Peggy Zask. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan

Peggy Zask has been providing a place for visual artists to show their work for over two decades. In the last couple of years she’s had to move twice, but each time she’s landed in a better location. Today Zask Gallery has a strong presence at The Promenade in Rolling Hills Estates.

While many galleries repeatedly show the same artists, Zask is always bringing in an array of talent, new faces to augment the old. Her exhibitions aren’t riveting simply by chance; they excel because the person behind them is knowledgeable, experienced, and passionate about what she’s doing.

Galvanizing the galleries

“My shows often begin with an interesting or timely theme that I want to pursue, or with artists who inspire me to build a show around their work,” Zask says. Occasionally she invites someone, an artist or curator, to lend their expertise. Otherwise, she’s the ringmaster.

A great deal of planning goes into each show.

“It often takes months to pull together artists to develop a breath of exploration of the concept. What I look for are works of art that demonstrate honesty, explore ideas, and remain open.

“I find artists by networking,” Zask continues. “My life is purely dedicated to art and almost all of my friends are artists. I visit artists’ studios regularly and seek the recommendations of artists and art professionals. Sometimes I find artists by attending gallery openings and events.”

Zask has always tried to display her exhibitions to their best advantage.

“I approach the gallery installation like a huge, unified art composition. I like to take the viewer on an adventure, an exploration of the visual. I put the room together as a visual narrative, the front image subtle but intriguing, leading into the gallery with form, color, and texture, and then building up to a climax of large and dramatic pieces. I like to create quiet areas for meditation and areas of bright light.”

Although preparing for each new show can be time-consuming and stressful, Zask says she enjoys the process of doing so. That means, in addition to laying out and hanging the show, figuring out the ideal lighting, labeling and pricing, and, for the opening receptions, ensuring that there’s plenty of food and drink. That’s on top of creating announcements, press releases, and making sure each artist is aware of deadlines and delivery dates.

Once it’s open to the public, what do you get out of an exhibition?

“My reward is seeing people spend a lot of time viewing the show and expressing a sense of awe or feeling that they are in a unique and inspiring place. I love to see the artists really pleased with how their work looks within the installation.”

Do you have a favorite kind of art?

“I love work,” Zask replies, “that looks like it was made with total passion and energy, knowledge of the subject or idea, and total confidence. I don’t have a favorite media – just good art no matter the media.”

Which brings us to some of her most memorable shows, one of which was titled “Second Nature.”

“It was a tremendous mix of Southern California artists whose interpretation of landscape spanned photorealism to total abstraction.” The show was well attended, there were major sales, and related events included a panel discussion focused on landscape and contemporary art.

Another personal favorite was “Finesse: Four Photographers.” It was, Zask says, “strong, unconventional, and sparse.” She rightly points to her current show, “eARTh,” which features 19 ceramic artists, as “a great mix of pottery styles, with many sculptors who transform the gallery to feel like another world.” It’s on view through Jan. 8, but on Saturday, Jan. 7, from 5 to 7 p.m., will be the site of a talk and discussion with Gerit Grimm, Lynn Haggard, Carolyn LaLiberte, and Tracey Weiss.

Ceramic art also happens to be near and dear to Peggy Zask. Having majored in drawing and painting at CSU Long Beach, she began her teaching career as a ceramics instructor at Mira Costa High School. Her passion for the medium continues to this day.

“Since I teach ceramics,” she says, “I am always looking for something to inspire my students. And to inspire them, I must be excited about what I’m teaching. When my students begin on a project concept, it gives me new ideas. Just being around clay is enough to motivate me… It’s a little addicting.”

In its present location, Zask Gallery attracts more foot traffic than in her previous two locations at Golden Cove, a shopping center at the base of Hawthorne and Palos Verdes Drive West. “I love having the Palos Verdes Art Center as a neighbor… I would love to have more galleries, independent art films in the theaters, independent bookshops, and small music venues.”

Zask is aware of every other art gallery in the area. Which ones in particular is she fond of?

“Ray Carofano’s Gallery 478 on Seventh Street in San Pedro impresses me with its innovative use of industrial space to exhibit consistently excellent shows of photography.” Currently on view is new and older work by Anthony Friedkin. “Also, Gallery Neuartig (under curator Beate Kirmse) is doing a great job to put on outstanding solo exhibitions. And I always love Cannery Row in Redondo Beach for maintaining a bohemian style.”

And in the months ahead?

“I have shows scheduled through 2012,” Zask says, “and as long as there is space, great art, audiences and collectors, I will keep putting them together into the future.”

Zask Gallery is located at 550 Deep Valley Drive, Suite 151, Rolling Hills Estates. Hours, Tuesday through Friday from 1 to 6 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 12 noon to 4 p.m. Call (310) 429-0973 or go to 


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