Fantasy Gardens: An Afternoon with Jane Gottlieb

Winding up the hills into the Santa Ynez Mountains, you might spot a brightly colored house perched proudly like a bird of paradise looking out from beneath the greenery. It is here that the AD&A interns met the Santa Barbara based artist Jane Gottlieb this week. Standing outside her house and studio wearing purple from head to toe, she greeted our cars from her gate, her blue eyes twinkling behind pink framed sunglasses complete with purple lenses.

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Santa Barbara, California, home of Jane Gottlieb and David Obst

The interior of the house is just as florescent as its exterior and Jane Gottlieb’s studio, swathed in fluffy rugs, is adorned with her framed works that evoke images of brightly colored dreams. The recognizable motifs of gardens, cityscapes, houses and skies line the studio in a kaleidoscopic wallpaper presenting an enhanced reality where color is just as important as the scenes it illuminates.

Whilst showing us snippets of her archival photographs stored systematically in lilac cabinets, Gottlieb discloses glimpses into her life and journey from being a creative director in the advertising industry to her transition into a career as a full time visual artist. She reveals that in the fourth grade, her teachers allowed her to sit painting at an easel during lesson times, while reminiscing that having her talent encouraged at such a young age helped focus her route towards a creative path. Now at the age of 70, she has spent the last 35 years as an artist and uses the example of her dedication to a daily practice of Tai Chi as an endorsement of her mantra: “do what you love and do it every day.” Clearly the abundance of her works is a testimony to its success.

A tour of the rest of her house begins when we walk up a thickly carpeted staircase leading into the main living areas. The floor is like a deep purple moss and the kitchen counter is adorned with five vases of brightly colored flowers. All around, multicolored dishes line the surfaces. “I collect glass” she says. Describing the house as a former “bachelor party pad”, Gottlieb reflects on the transformation of the building which, upon first moving in with her husband, she painted in many bright colors. This ritual began 40 years ago, when travelling in Yucatán, Mexico, the beauty of the boldly washed houses first inspired her to begin this colorful tradition. “I can’t understand why people paint their houses the color of dirt instead of flowers and nature” she says humorously. Admittedly, after a cheerful tour of her house, it is difficult to disagree.


The AD&A Interns with Jane Gottlieb

The next part of our shared afternoon led us to the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens and the new Pritzlaff Conservation Center Gallery designed by architect Doug Singletary. The inaugural exhibition which opened on 14th April 2017, has brought together a selection of Gottlieb’s works under the title: “Fantasy Gardens”. The exhibition space itself embodies this title, with sliding doors leading out into a garden that seems to hover above Santa Barbara like a contemporary rendition of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Gottlieb’s “Fantasy Gardens” are the product of a lifetime of travel, drawing from photographs from around the world, which she hand-paints with retouching dyes onto Cibachrome prints. Scans of these and her lifetime collection of 35 mm Kodachrome slides, form the base for her visionary skills in Photoshop, painting and collage. When asked whether the resulting colors of her prints derive from a conscious observation of the contrast between built environment and landscape, she replied that she feels more than she intellectualizes. It is difficult therefore, to attempt to critique her works, for they are bright and playful simply because it is “fun” for them to be so. There is no doubt however, that Jane Gottlieb’s works present a fantastical vision of the world that is, as she is, bright, bold and imaginative.

Gottlieb-BG Easy Living Store

Fantasy Gardens, Easy Living, Jane Gottlieb

Gottlieb-Bot Gar Sunset store

Fantasy Gardens, Botanical Gardens Sunset, Jane Gottlieb

Looking through Gottlieb’s portfolio on her website, the works in “Monet’s Gardens” are accompanied by Bob Dylan and a particular line in his song “Lay Lady Lay” perfectly captures what each of her prints achieve. As if he were writing on Gottlieb’s behalf, with each work she seems to say “whatever colors you have in your mind, I show them to you and you see them shine.”

The Fantasy Gardens exhibition is showing at the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens until Tuesday 4th July 2017 and watch out for her upcoming show at the UCSB AD&A Museum opening in January 2018. Check out Jane’s work at


Brigitte Zheng


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