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How do you thank the community that named you the first Malibu Masters Art Scholarship winner?
Hunter Blaze Pearson, who on Feb. 13 kicked off a four-week show at Tracy Park Gallery — his first there — is doing it by donating a portion of the proceeds from that show to help another deserving high school student win the $10,000 award.
The scholarship was founded by gallery owner Tracy Park and her friend artist Joe McDougall to help Malibu High School students who wish to further their education in the arts. In 2018, a show featuring works by McDougall, Pierce Brosnan, Lyndie Benson, Eamon Harrington, Katherine Kousi, Emily Scher, Daniel Stern, Guerin Swing, Michael Torquato DeNicola, Elise Vazelakis and Mike Zozaya kicked off the fundraising efforts.
Pearson was tapped as the first recipient.
In an interview with Surfside News, the 20-year-old said the scholarship “wasn’t exactly on my radar,” back in high school, noting teachers generally gauged who the “artsy” kids were.
Next thing Pearson knew, there was a check for $10,000 with his name on it.
“I was very, very honored to have won it,” he recalled. “Tracy handed it to me and said, ‘Just don’t spend it on a car.’”
A fan of Andy Warhol, Pearson says he’s been an artist his entire life, describing his work as “sort of Pop Art-style also mixed with photo realism.”
Among the 13 pieces he’s showing at Tracy Park Gallery, in Malibu Country Mart above Toy Crazy, is “Smile, You're On Camera No. 1-4,” comprised of four 24-inch diameter acrylic on wood panel “canvases.” At the time of this interview, one of panels had sold.
He also is showing the 48-by-60-inch “Has It Been This Way All Along?” and the 33-by-48-inch “This One Is For Christopher,” both mixed media: acrylic, colored pencil and epoxy resin on wood panels. Both are entirely hand drawn and painted.
Impressive as these pieces are, the medium through which Pearson gained a lot of attention in his teens, including from Maroon 5 singer and former “The Voice” judge Adam Levine, was hand-painted sneakers.
“That is a crazy, winding story,” Pearson recalled. “At 16 or 17, my mom said I had to pay for insurance, so I had to get a job or find some way to pay. I had done a contest for Vans shoes. Every school gets five pairs and they have all the art students submit their shoes. If you win, they send money to the school art program.”
He didn’t win, but Pearson figured doing custom shoes would be a way to get his art out to more people — and pay for auto insurance.
“I did shoes for friends at school in Agoura. That’s where I went to elementary school and middle school,” Pearson said.
Among his customers was a boy who wanted some Lakers-themed shoes.
Fearing a cease and desist letter, Pearson initially balked. That’s when the customer made a call to his older brother, who, unbeknownst to Pearson at the time, was Levine, “the biggest Lakers fan and friend of the Lakers owner.”
“I did the shoes, he (little brother) put them on his Instagram,” said Pearson. “Evidently Adam saw them and he ordered several different pairs, and some for his wife.”
The first specifically for Levine was based on the California flag.
“He’s worn those,” said Pearson. “He’s just a huge shoe head.”
Later, the brother asked for a Kobe Bryant tribute pair for Levine’s birthday. Pearson went with a size 14 or 15, he said, “just for more canvas space.”
Soon he was doing Maroon 5 tour T-shirts and some ear buds sporting Pearson’s designs.
Pearson’s hand-painted shoes go for $400-$750 and can take a week to complete, depending on the complexity of the design.
Most people have a general theme they entrust to the artist. “But I have had a few people that sent me a full page of notes,” Pearson said, “with details on what they want on each panel of the shoe.”
“One guy wanted Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader fighting, the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland,” he continued. “It was tough, but it came out fine.”
Do customers wear the shoes or show them off?
“I like to say once I sell them the shoes they can do whatever they like.”
He knows some people display them as works of art.
In case a client wants to wear the custom shoes, Pearson sends along extra weather-proofing spray.
If all goes as planned, Hunter Pearson hopes to continue his art for life, and he likes Malibu as a base of operations.
“Art is something I’ve always ben good at,” he said. “I love this more than most things.”
“From what I’ve seen, there’s a wide range of tastes in Malibu,” he added. “It feels like a small town, even though it’s kind of a large town. Everybody around here’s a sucker for the ocean. Why else would we be here?”