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The Ocean is his Canvas

British-born Malcolm Warner sits on top of the world as executive director of Laguna Art Museum

Raised in the British military town of Aldershot, outside of London, Malcolm Warner found a welcome escape in the pages of art books, entranced by distant landscapes and the faces of people who lived centuries ago. He studied art at the University of London, earning a doctorate from the prestigious Courtauld Institute of Art, and moved to the United States in 1988. After serving as a curator at a number of noted facilities, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Warner joined the Laguna Art Museum in 2012 to oversee its collection of 3,000 works by California painters and sculptors. The 61-year-old Warner, whose wife, Sara, is active in the Laguna Beach music scene, has two children.

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My neighborhood: Arch Beach Heights, high in the hills of Laguna Beach.
Why I live there: I was determined to live in Laguna Beach, even though it’s not the most affordable place in the world. I think it’s important for a director of a museum to live in the city that the museum serves. The great attraction of Arch Beach Heights is the view. You get the most magnificent, sweeping views of the ocean and spectacular sunsets. Also, it’s a short walk to the wonderful wilderness areas that surround Laguna Beach.

Favorite spot: The fire road connecting Arch Beach Heights to another area of Laguna called Top of the World. It’s my favorite local route for walking and jogging. There’s a beautiful view of the ocean and Catalina Island. I can actually see the museum. Looking inland, you can see Laguna Niguel, Soka University and look way off to mountain ranges that I’m never sure I know the names of.

Only restaurant I can’t live without: Brussels Bistro in downtown Laguna Beach. I love that place. Its specialty, as the name suggests, is Belgian cuisine, and it has an authentic European atmosphere. It serves beer that you can’t get anywhere else. And they have great mussels.

My perfect day: I enjoy my work, so my perfect day would probably be a work day – taking the bus from near my house down the hill and into town. Then I walk through town, along the boardwalk, and up the cliff to the museum. After work, I’d watch my son Charlie play soccer for Laguna Beach High School. After the game, my priority would be a nice drink of some kind, probably a Manhattan.

Favorite get-away destination: San Francisco.

My sanctuary: Walking on the beach. Almost any beach, but I have a particular fondness for Shaw’s Cove in Laguna. It’s one of the smaller beaches and it reminds me of favorite seaside places in England, particularly in Cornwall, a beautiful part of southwestern England. In fact, Laguna Beach has just become a sister city of St. Ives in Cornwall. In September, I accompanied a group of people from Laguna Beach who went to St. Ives for the ceremony.

Angels or Dodgers?  Angels.

Red or white?  Red.

Best celebrity encounter:  The queen of England. In 2005, I organized an exhibition of the work of a British artist, George Stubbs, from the 18th century, and eventually it traveled to London. The queen ceremonially opened the exhibition. I met her and showed her around. She was just as charming and engaging as everybody says she is.  

My pet peeve: I’ve got a lot of those, as my wife would tell you. Mainly, the under-developed state of public transport in this part of the world.

Favorite artist: Rembrandt. That’s a tough question, though.


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