Betty Gold

Inside Art
Betty Gold
Renowned artist Betty Gold visited Chapman University on April 5 during a documentary screening of her life. Gold is pictured in front of 12 maquettes she donated to the university in 2015.
Now in her eighth decade of life, Betty Gold isn’t slowing down a bit.  In fact, life has taken on an even faster pace for the acclaimed Venice (Calif.)-based sculptor.  A documentary on Gold’s life and work making its way through the film festival circuit is drawing even more attention to a woman who has always insisted on the right to forge her own artistic path. - link “Betty Gold” to 
Gold creates large-scale steel sculptures designed for the outdoors.  At various times during her career, she has also done photography, tapestries, sculptural jewelry and painted.  A former Lone Star Beauty queen, Gold was born in Austin, Texas in 1935. She has lived in Los Angeles since 1977.  During her career, Gold’s work has exhibited in fine-art galleries and museums around the world.
Here in Orange, Gold’s work can be found on the Chapman University campus, where her large folded aluminum “Colgado II” (2013) was commissioned for the south facade of the Hutton Sports Center.  The elegantly angled work of art, pictured on the inside front cover of this issue, is situated so that it catches the California sun all day as varied shadows play across its face.
In front of Chapman’s Hutton Center, too, is a collection of a dozen of Gold’s small white metal maquettes (models made for larger sculptures), a gift to the university from the artist.  The angular maquettes break up the space and add a jolt of visual interest to the flat planes of the building.  They were created in 2015 as models for Gold’s large final sculptures that stand in such locations as Fordham University (Bronx, NY), Boise State University (Boise, Ida.), the National Museum of Contemporary Art (Seoul, South Korea) and the Biloxi Library and Cultural Center (Biloxi, Miss.).
Nearer to Orange, Gold’s sculptures can be found at the Orange County School of the Arts, the Orange County Museum of Art, the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, Biola University, UC Irvine, the Ronald Reagan State Building in L.A., the Palm Springs Desert Museum, the Brea Tech Center, USC and Pepperdine University, among others. John Wayne Airport has also acquired a Gold piece.
“I love everything about Betty’s work,” says Chapman University President Emeritus Jim Doti, who, with his wife Lynne, has commissioned Gold to create a piece for a new house they’re building in Villa Park.  “The free form, the angles, the shadows.  There’s something about the inherent strength of her pieces, but there’s also an aesthetic sensibility to them that goes back to Japanese origami in its complexity.  There’s a geometric quality to her work that I find compelling—and a kinetic quality, too, because of the moving shadows.” 
Twice-married and divorced—both times to men who didn’t support her pursuing a career as a metal sculptor—Gold has always forged her own way in a male-dominated field.
“When I attended my first welding class, the other students learning metalworking were all men,” says Gold of her formative artistic years.  “They were guys who hadn’t made it to college—some right out of high school.  I didn’t know a thing about welding, but I did know how to sew.  In sewing you have to be methodical and careful and take care not to sew your finger into your dress.  So I applied the same methods and just welded right along.  I wasn’t afraid of the torch.”
But her husband at the time wasn’t quite so happy with Betty’s fascination with metal sculpting.  “He said, grudgingly, ‘OK, it can be a hobby.’  His attitude was get cleaned up and get a manicure,” she says.  In the end, Gold chose her art over the naysaying spouse.  “The men I married were the men I married; they didn’t change,” Gold says now.  “I was the one who changed.”
The documentary film on Gold’s life, “A Year with Betty Gold,” directed by Jason McMerty, had its world premiere last November at the Mallorca International Film Festival in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.  This proved a fitting location, since Gold made the city her part-time residence for several years, and the area is home to several of her large-scale sculptures.  The film was also screened recently at Chapman University by its director.
“I’d created social-cause documentaries earlier in my career, but when I moved to LA, I wanted to work on a feature-length documentary,” McMerty said during his Chapman visit.  “I was talking with a friend, Dick Block at USC, and I told him I wanted my next film subject to be inspirational, either art or music. Dick replied, ‘Well, then, you have to meet Betty Gold.’ ”
McMerty, an assistant professor of communications at Elon University and director of the Elon satellite programs in Los Angeles and San Francisco, embedded himself in Gold’s life for 18 months, forging a strong friendship with her as he documented her life and creative activities in her Venice studio.  He rented an AirBnB near the studio, watched her working and selling her sculptures, grabbed lunches and dinners with her, walked and talked with her, filming all the while.  The editing process took another year.  The resulting hour-long film won the Jury Award at the Milwaukee Women’s Film Festival and has garnered acclaim wherever it has screened.
“We still hang out and we’re still friends,” says McMerty.
Gold, who accompanied McMerty to Chapman for the screening, is pleased that her sculptures are on view there and at several other universities.  “A college campus is one of my favorite places,” she says.  “Students need to see art, and, of course, without education you don’t have anything.”
How does Gold, at what many would consider an age when she might slow down, stay so active and engaged?  “Well, I drag myself out of bed in the morning,” jokes the woman who until very recently wrangled huge pieces of steel on a regular basis.  “I do my yoga and stretching first thing, because I have a very bad back.  Then I go in the studio and I paint; then maybe take a long walk on the beach.”
After living and working in her Venice studio for more than 30 years, Gold has decided it’s time for more change.  “I have one more year in Venice.  I sold my building, because I need something to take care of me for the rest of my life,” she says.  (“She’s a very smart entrepreneur,” notes Doti.)
Gold is also downsizing.  She gave half of her art books to Chapman University Library and the other half to Mary Baldwin University.  It’s no longer economically feasible for her to create large steel sculptures, because the price of steel has risen dramatically recently, but she’s still immersed in art.
“I’ll be creating the sculpture for the Dotis next, and of course I’m still painting a lot,” says Gold.  “Nowadays, I’m always thinking about color—how to mix a particular gray or pink, for example.  I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night to mix a color and dab it on paper.  There are inspirations all over; it’s always fascinating.”


For more information about Betty Gold:

Published in the May/Jun 2018 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Mary Platt, photograph by Daniel Reyes

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