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Painted panels to adorn lifeguard towers in Avila Beach - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Painted panels to adorn lifeguard towers in Avila Beach

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A local artist's underwater landscapes were set to go on display in Avila Beach next week, (but more on that in a moment.)

The paintings won't hang in a gallery or museum. Instead, they'll decorate lifeguard towers, where everyone can see them.

Colleen Gnos grew up on the Central Coast, surfing, exploring the beaches, and by age 12... painting. Her family's been fishing off Avila for generations, so her work is part whimsey, part biology, and part history.

"My favorite (subjects) are the harbor seals," she explains, pointing to the acrylic depictions on an aluminum panel. "They're just so cute and friendly. Maybe I'll add some more dolphins. These are a lot of the fish that you'd find down there," she says, "...The purple urchin, the kelp."

Gnos strolls around another array of art pieces all displayed in a large rectangle, like pieces in a puzzle.

"This is the back side of Tower 1." She points to a large portrait of two men--one dressed in an old style, deep sea diver suit, the other, seated to his left in peacoat and skipper's hat. "This is based off of a black and white photograph taken of my grandfather in 1938, I believe. That's him on the right, in a diving suit that weighed about 230 pounds."

His cousin is pictured on the left, ready to assist. Both men look comfortable and seasoned. In the background, an oil tanker waits outside the port.

Gnos says she did a lot of research to prepare for the project. She wanted to make sure the panels worked as doors and hatches, so she designed a scale model of the lifeguard towers, complete with flaps representing where each of the art panes will be affixed with rivets.

"Thirteen separate panels that can open and close," she explains. "I had to design this to give myself an idea of what it would look like when panels were open. You can see here I have doors that would open and close."

She had to choose her materials carefully, so all her work doesn't just fade away.

"It's kind of the worst possible conditions for two-dimensional art. The sun's going to be hitting it. The ocean waves could literally be breaking. There's going to be saltwater sticking to it on a daily basis and then the wind and sand."

When the project's complete, she hopes all the forms meet function and that beachgoers enjoy the art and maybe learn a bit about the history and environment above and below Avila Beach.

The project is funded by a grant from the Avila Community Foundation and as we mentioned, the panels were set to go up next week. But Friday, because of the forecast, that was postponed.

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