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Culture Report: NASA Designer Makes One Giant Leap to Full-Time Artist

Local buildings and designs will soon get orchid’d or onion’d, “Hamilton” is coming to town and more in our weekly digest of the region’s arts and culture news.

Melissa Walter had a job at NASA. She did graphic design, illustration and social media, mostly for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. She loved the job, but she also started obsessing over the fine art she was making at home in her spare time.

At the end of 2015, she decided to take the leap: She quit her full-time job so she could become a full-time artist.

“I was sort of having more confidence in what I was doing, and more excitement, and that’s all I could think about,” Walter said. “I realized, OK, this is it. This is what I should be spending my time on.”

In a new episode of Culturecast, Voice of San Diego’s podcast about arts and culture, I talk to Walter about her transition to full-time artist, and the science-based art that’s been fueling her success.

Many artists who quit their day jobs flounder, at least in the beginning. But Walter has quickly flourished, scoring group and solo shows, plus residencies that have allowed her to explore large-scale installation work. She’s also the subject of a new documentary by The Artist Odyssey, a San Diego production company that produces short films about artists for its subscribers.

Melissa Walter art

Photo courtesy of Melissa Walter

The interest in Walter’s art stems, in part, from her perfectionism. She’s a bit obsessive-compulsive, which means she’s able to intensely focus on her work and use time-consuming processes – like using thousands of tiny dots to create a shading effect – that result in attractive, detailed geometric images.

People also appreciate her exploration of astrophysics and astronomical objects. Because of Walter’s background in science-based illustrations and graphic design, she’s got a knack for turning complicated ideas into intriguing and meticulous minimalist drawings, sculptures and installations.

But even those who glaze over the dark matter, gravitational waves and other complicated concepts at the center of her art can still enjoy the clean images she creates.

“You don’t have to know any of this to look at my work or appreciate it,” she said. “I like the idea that people can connect to my work visually, and then if they take the time to learn about it more in depth, then maybe they’ll be more curious or inspired.”

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Subscribe to Culturecast on iTunesStream it here, or listen to past episodes here.

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

The Good, the Bad and the Weird

Here’s what the main car wash in my neighborhood of Lemon Grove looks like:

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

It’s big, bold and gaudy as hell.

Lemon Grove isn’t alone – car washes everywhere often employ garish architecture and end up looking stuck somewhere between futuristic and retro. A new car wash in Bay Park has provoked the ire of neighbors for putting its tackiness on bright neon display.

The building is one of a handful of new projects in San Diego nominated for Thursday’s Orchids & Onions Awards, the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s annual look at the best and worst of the region’s built environment.

“The disco club-like design does not match the style of the surrounding neighborhood and is despised by many neighbors,” writes the anonymous person who nominated the Bay Park car wash on the Orchids & Onions website.

Some of this year’s nominated “Orchids,” or examples of architecture and design that neighbors like, include the new Imperial Beach Library, the interior of the False Idol tiki bar in Little Italy and a new sculpture by San Diego artist Christopher Puzio for an apartment complex in La Jolla.

Other nominations for “Onions,”or the designs that folks don’t like, include the San Diego International Airport’s Rental Car Center (which is decked out with thousands of dollars’ worth of new public art) and the drive-thru Starbucks on El Cajon Boulevard.

Winners will be announced at Thursday’s event.

A Swan Story, a Park Play and More Arts and Culture News

• The La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls Festival made it into the New York Times’ daily video feature.

“Hamilton” opens in San Diego in January. Here’s what you need to know about scoring a ticket. (Union-Tribune)

• Toshiro Abbley was told early on that he’d have to dance better than anyone else if he wanted to succeed in ballet as a black man. The Union-Tribune has a profile of Abbley, who’s starring in the the California Ballet’s presentation of “Swan Lake” this week.

California Ballet Swan Lake

Photo courtesy of California Ballet

• The rows of tombstones at Pioneer Park will serve as a backdrop for San Diego Actors Theatre’s upcoming production of “The Zoo Story.”

• The annual Medium Festival of Photography is happening this week.

• An exhibition featuring more than 40 works of decorative stitched quilting from the Mingei International Museum’s collection opens Saturday.

• San Diego Museum of Art Executive Director Roxana Velásquez talked about the “Modern Masters from Latin America: The Pérez Simón Collection,” exhibition that’s on view through March 11 on KPBS’s “Midday Edition”

• The San Diego Opera is hosting a panel discussion about “Transgender Visibility in the Arts.”

• San Diego City Works Press is celebrating the release of its newest book, local author Mel Freilicher’s “American Cream,” described as a cross between history, fantasy and memoir. (San Diego Free Press)

• Watch a live discussion Wednesday with curator Bob Self and artist Rolly Crump about the Oceanside Museum of art exhibition “Rolly Crump: It’s Kind of a Cute Story.”

• There are all kinds of Halloween events this weekend, including a parade, a party in the Gaslamp, a creepy block party, a pumpkin-carving contest at a brewery, a celebration at Liberty Station and Halloween Family Day at Balboa Park. There are also all kinds of Day of the Dead celebrations, including Sherman Heights Community Center’s annual festival, The Old Globe’s community events and performances, Old Town’s celebration and more.

• The ArtReach San Diego nonprofit has spent the last decade providing free and low-cost art classes in schools that don’t have funding for visual arts programs. (Union-Tribune)

• Fall in love with San Diego all over again (or for the first time, if you’re a transplant who hasn’t given in to San Diego’s charms quite yet) by reading CityBeat’s annual round-up of the best things our city has to offer.

• See one-of-a-kind artsy surfboards by Tim Bessell at an exhibition opening at a new gallery and library space at the St-James-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in La Jolla.

• For those who like to plan waaaaay ahead, The Old Globe has announced its 2018 summer theater season. (KPBS)

• Longtime radio personality Chris Cantore has launched his own podcast network. In one of the shows he hosts, he interviews Fip Buchanan of Avalon Tattoo II in North Park, one of the first tattoo shops in San Diego.

• Learn more about the Convoy District’s transformation into an Asian food and entertainment district at a panel discussion Thursday morning.

• CicloSDias San Diego will close streets to cars in Little Italy, the Gaslamp, East Village and Barrio Logan on Sunday.

• San Diego New Music’s new season opens this week.

• The San Diego Museum of Man wants you to share your deepest secrets. It’s all part of a big exhibition opening next year.

The Mojalet Dance Collective’s upcoming performance looks trippy.

Beer, Booze and Food News

• Here’s an in-depth history lesson on some of San Diego and Tijuana’s oldest Mexican restaurants. (Classic San Diego)

• Shake Shack is officially open and the photos coming out of that place look ridiculously delicious. (Eater)

• There’s an interview with the the founder of Seven Caves Spirits, a San Diego-based craft distillery, on the VOSD Podcast Network show “Beer Talk Radio.”

• You had me at “stuffed avocado,” Landon’s Gourmet Kitchen, but throw in childcare and I’m soooooo there. (Reader)

• Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center is hosting a dinner with Trish Watlington, a local restaurant owner with progressive ideas about food.

• A new restaurant serving Korean-style shaved ice opened on Convoy Street. (Eater)

• Stone Brewing’s chief operating officer has stepped down. (Brewbound)

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at kinsee@vosd.org with arts and culture news and tips. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.

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