January 30, 2020

Publisher’s note:

My memories of growing up at the Jersey Shore run deep and through all of my senses. The smell of salty air paired with Coppertone and funnel cakes. The sound of sizzling sausages and the flashing lights of the rides after the sun sets on the Point Pleasant Boardwalk. The taste of Kohr’s soft-serve ice cream. The feeling of sunburned legs on our family Impala’s vinyl seats. To grow up at the Jersey Shore is special. We spend our summers outside. At the beach. In the grass. By the grill. When I first saw Theresa Losa’s art, I was instantly transported back to those carefree summer days of my childhood. I couldn’t shake the images, and I knew we needed to include her story—and share her work—in The Bluff. And while a trek to the Jersey Shore may not be in your future travel plans (but it should be!), I do know that many of our readers hail from the Northeast and likely share a similar fondness for “the shore.” Enjoy.

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Bright, irregular squares and geometric patterns of beach towels, umbrellas, and sunbathers form a happy clutter, relieved by fields of tranquil blues and whites. The colors, expressed in dramatic blocky forms, evoke sea glass, with cool watery hues prevailing, but here and there a dash of amber, rose, watermelon, or yellow. Minimalist figures surf, swim, romp, lounge in lawn chairs, or wade in the waves with their little ones, the simple style reflecting a carefree vibe. The eye travels easily around this scene, at once busy and relaxed. Like the best works of Saul Blass or the bright, irreverent stylings of cartoon modern, this is a style that evokes vibrancy, emotion, and movement in the simplest way possible.This is the art of Theresa Losa: invoking the universal pleasure of a fun summer day at the beach.

“I try to reflect happiness and joy,” said Losa, who lives and works on the Jersey Shore. “I have memories of being a kid at the beach, just running around and loving it; then as a teenager being there with my girlfriends and checking out the guys; and now as a mom holding my kid’s hand by the ocean. I try to offer glimpses of memories that everyone can relate to, and my figures are very gestural so they could be anyone.”

The brilliance of her art rests on two pillars. The first is that singular memory of the beach, distilled to the essence that has fueled her endless return to the shore throughout her life. The other is a love of her craft that goes back generations. Losa’s grandmother and great-grandmother were both accomplished painters, so art has surrounded her throughout her life.

Teachers recognized her talent early on, spurring her to art classes at local schools and community colleges. And while her studies introduced her to all manner of mediums, she found her calling in painting, even if she found her vocation in graphic design, working for Nordstrom. The corporate hours held some measure of security, but brought with them their own constraints, particularly as Losa and her husband, Matt, began to grow their family. Their four children, now ranging in age from 3–11, made the intractability of a nine-to-five simply unsustainable.

Losa left Nordstrom and returned to her craft, first just for family and friends, but eventually to a much larger audience as her appeal spread. In a somewhat morbid way, it helped that she was launching a career of spreading happy memories in the aftermath of tragedy, when they were needed most.

“People were ready for a fresh start after Hurricane Sandy, and they gravitated toward my work,” recalled Losa, whose first collection of 30+ pieces in her Beach People series sold out before the show even opened. “Memories of joy have been the most common response. People say, ‘This reminds me of better days.’”

In the years that followed, Losa showed her work in coastal communities up and down the Atlantic Seaboard. Hers was a mostly regional following, until her art found a national showcase in the third season of the Showtime series, The Affair. That led to her work being picked up by Serena & Lily, whose coastal stylings mesh perfectly with Losa’s work. These days between shows, commissions, and installations for Serena & Lily, Losa is working prodigiously. So prodigiously, in fact, that she’s been able to leave behind the garden shed her husband built, which has served as her open-air studio. As she sat for this interview, Losa was also preparing to open her own showroom in Bay Head, New Jersey.

Losa works mostly in acrylic on canvas, though her latest show in Manasquan, New Jersey, features a new series on linen. Getting into the zone surrounded by 10 to 30 paintings (she can never work on just one), Losa often finds herself so absorbed in the process that she forgets to eat or restart the music. She never makes preliminary sketches, and she doesn’t like to work from photos—her art just flows from inspiration. In addition to the ever-popular beach scenes, Losa has done Pool People, Ski People, a harvest series depicting farm life, and simple yet charming seascapes that bring her peace when she needs a break from the busy beaches.

If you look closely, you’ll see the influence of the generations who came before her, as in her “white on white” still lifes. Painted in homage to her great-grandmother, these works reflect a cleaner, classic New England lifestyle of a bygone era. Losa’s other influences include Cubist and modernist painters, and she credits her grandmother with bringing home the bright Mexican textiles and folk art that contributed to her own folksy aesthetic.

When she’s not painting, Losa loves sharing that love of the beach, so instrumental in her work, with her husband and children. “We’re a tight family,” Losa said. “I hate leaving my children, so when we travel to my shows, we take them with us and make an adventure out of it.”

Ultimately, it’s about sharing joy and proving how simple it can be. The simple happiness she seeks in her own life is the same she tries to share with others via her art. They’re just colorful, blocky shapes and simple caricatures of people living their bliss. But the emotions they convey take you back instantly to your own happy memories.

“I think there’s a lot of sadness in the world. A lot of depression and people fighting over things that aren’t really that important,” she said. “But sometimes, it’s the simple joys, like sticking your feet in the water and breathing the salty air, that really make a difference. If I can show that to one person, take them away from their busy schedule and make them smile, then that’s a good mission and what I will continue to aim for."

Written by: Michele Roldán-Shaw

Photography by: Matt Paul Catalano and Theresa Losa

Culture

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