Creating Magic Underwater

Former Marineland diver Addison Loomis’ works of art – painted under water – specially exhibited at Terranea

Scott Loomis has not visited the scenic Palos Verdes Peninsula in 18 years. Since then, things have certainly changed from the former site of Marineland. “Well, I don’t recognize it at all!” he says humorously. “Terranea is beyond anything I’ve ever expected to walk up into. I’ve seen photos, but to actually be here is overwhelming, and to come back here is just phenomenal.”

Terranea Resort sits proudly on the land which was the former site of Marineland, which was once the world’s largest oceanarium and pre-Disneyland, Southern California’s most popular attraction park. The park featured a variety of aquatic life, including several whales and a famous dolphin named Bubbles. However, one of Marineland’s most fascinating attractions was a creative diver who found artistic expression deep within the water tanks – Addison Rockwell Loomis. His son Scott explains how this quite extraordinary idea came to fruition, “Another diver knew my dad was an artist, and suggested he try to paint underwater.” Loomis aka “Curly,” began testing different techniques, as one would expect – oil doesn’t mix with water. “He tried to paint using an actual canvas, but because that was underwater, it wouldn’t hold the paint,” Scott explains. “So he developed a Masonite board, treated with a special coating, that would hold the paint and withstand all the water.” With a diving helmet, weighted belt, an easel, and paint tubes tied to his wrists, Loomis created his own unique studio, with creatures of the sea as his subjects.

Scott Loomis with one of his father’s pieces painted underwater not far from the Terranea lobby where they are pictured.

Oregon-born Loomis found his calling through artistic expression at an early age, however, his career path initially led him in a different direction. During WWII, he served as a pilot in the United States Air Force, and later, found work as a logger. In his spare time, Loomis would continue to create with mediums including oil painting. In 1961, Loomis, along with his wife and four children, moved to Southern California in hopes of a fresh start. He began to work at Marineland as a custodian, and after diligent training, quickly rose up the ranks to become a diver. With this new position, Loomis became part of “The Show,” where divers would venture into the park’s 22-feet deep oval tank and capture the audience’s attention by feeding the various surrounding fish and sharks, as well as educating the park-goers on the hungry, fishy friends through an intercom system.

Then came the idea to paint underwater, and from 1966 to 1974, Loomis created a total of 15 exceptionally unique underwater works of art. With the nature of the artist’s technique, each piece took around 40 hours to complete. “Due to the depth of the tank and staying underwater, my father’s body temperature would lower and – even with a wetsuit on – he would start to lose his body heat. He could only spend about an hour at a time underwater,” explains Scott. In order to efficiently make use of his time, Loomis carefully observed the fish cycling around the tank, and with every pass-by, he was able to brush a few strokes on the canvas until their return around the tank. Over and over. Round and round. Until the work was complete. “You’ll see in the progression of his work, once he developed his technique and got used to it, [his pieces] started from more abstract and rough, to really tuned into the details, almost like a photograph. He was able to capture the light refraction and everything just right.” Upon first glance of the pieces, you notice the brush strokes conveying the glimmering light from above the water’s surface. You also sense the subjects themselves – their stoic expressions as they circle the depths of the tank – creatures that have been immortalized forever within Loomis’ creations. One particular subject became rather fond of the artist, a massive grouper fish named Jerome. “At 175 pounds and four feet long, Jerome would sit right with my dad, at his knee, and stare at him,” says Scott. “He decided to paint his portrait and name him Jerome after my best friend from elementary school.” The piece has become one of Scott’s many favorites.

When talking with Scott, you instantly feel the special bond between him and his father. Scott grew up at Marineland – it was his big playground. Hopping on the back of his father’s motorbike from their home in Redondo Beach, the pair would ride into his father’s place of business – the massive, oceanfront park. There, Scott would swim in the tanks with the fish (not whales), and he and his brother would use the giant slide. All after hours, of course. So many wonderful and cherished memories were created along this famous coastline. In addition to the art collection being uniquely created, the collection holds sentimental value beyond measure. It symbolizes Loomis’ lifelong dream of success as an artist and sharing his art with the world, as well as a son’s vow to help make that dream a reality. After Loomis’ passing of a brain tumor at the age of 67, Scott has made it his goal to keep his father’s legacy alive. “Before he passed, I promised him that I’d do everything in my power to make sure that his artwork was appreciated and that everyone could see it,” Scott emotionally recalls. “I tried everything I could do. I would’ve loved to have a little gallery in the Palos Verdes Peninsula, just so people could see them, but that hasn’t happened…yet.”

On July 27 – 28, Terranea Resort was proud to present a very special exhibit of Loomis’ collection, an almost fortuitous moment, and yet, had been many years in the making. Loomis’ art was welcomed back to the very location from which it was created. Scott describes the emotional moment of telling the family, saying, “I called up my mom, who’s 95, and said, ‘Mama, it’s gonna happen for dad after 45 years. Daddy’s artwork is gonna be shown.’ And she started to cry.” He additionally describes the significance of this opportunity, saying, “It was a life changing experience for our entire family. Having the exhibition on the very spot that the paintings were created was a dream come true. The last exhibit of his work was 45 years ago in the Oval Tank on the same ground.” While at the exhibit, Scott met many former Marineland employees having a reunion, many of whom remembered watching his father, their co-worker, hard at work painting underwater. There was also a plentiful amount of special connections with people, both young and old. “As the exhibit went on, we were amazed at the children that were drawn to the art, and especially the story,” Scott explains. “I had not expected such an interest from them, but they were fascinated and realized that these painting were done underwater even before it dawned on their parents!”

After the incredible success of the exhibit, Scott feels more inspired than ever to continue on this journey, keeping his father’s memory alive through the shared experience of art. “My father’s dream was that people around the world would be able to enjoy the beauty and balance that he saw in nature as he portrayed it on his canvas,” Scott meaningfully explains. “He would have felt absolutely fulfilled and accomplished had he been there at the exhibit.” As for the future, Scott and his family plan to keep the collection intact and travel around the world, from museums to aquariums to anywhere there’s interest, to all who would like to enjoy its equally impressive aesthetics and story. And it all began right here, on the beautiful coastal bluff of Palos Verdes at Terranea. Scott describes his visit back to the location, saying, “From the time we arrived until we left, the experience was phenomenal. I have never been treated with such a level of excellence. The atmosphere, staff, service, and cuisine, were all amazing! The preparation for the exhibit by the team at Terranea was unbelievable, and their constant care made the exhibit a huge success. The creativity and effort this team put into it was very professional and they truly honored not only the artwork, but my father as well.” He meaningfully adds, “I believe that the heart of Terranea – including the land, the wildlife, and the environment – are one in the same [with the heart] that my father had. He has been honored now, and there are no words to describe that.”

For more information, please visit arloomisunderwaterart.com.