Rich and Ariane MacDonald opened Dawson Cole Fine Art on El Paseo in 2013 — but they’ve spent their whole lives immersed in the arts.
Story by Amelia Rodriguez
Photography courtesy Dawson Cole Fine Art
“I grew up smelling oil paint,” Rich MacDonald Jr. says. “Any time an artist brings a new painting into the gallery, [the smell] takes me back.” The son of celebrated illustrator and sculptor Richard MacDonald, Rich spent his childhood watching his father work in the studio below the family’s second-floor residence.
Art became a touchstone for every major event in Rich’s life — in fact, he met his wife, Ariane, in an art history course at the University of California, Los Angeles. Ariane had cultivated her own background in the arts. Born in Dallas, Texas, she moved to Paris at 18 and spent two years studying the walls of the Louvre and other major French museums. Back in the United States, Ariane worked at Rodeo Drive galleries before enrolling at UCLA.
“I always knew I wanted to be in the arts,” Rich shares. “I never really gravitated to being an artist where you paint or you draw, but [I was] creative in a different way.” Early in the MacDonalds’ marriage, Rich flexed his inventive spirit as an actor and model in Los Angeles. When the elder MacDonald was tapped to create a massive bronze monument for the 1996 Olympics, the couple became involved with the planning.
“That’s when we really came on board working for his dad,” Ariane remembers. They eventually oversaw the opening of five galleries. With Ariane acting as managing director, the pair handled everything from staffing to revenue.
Equipped with a wealth of art business acumen from that experience, Rich and Ariane opened their own gallery in Laguna Beach in 2010, dubbing it Dawson Cole Fine Art after their firstborn son. They cut the ribbon on their Palm Desert location three years later.
“What El Paseo offers that is so different [from] Laguna Beach is that it has a really sophisticated, very contemporary feel,” Rich says. “I think that the contemporary market gives some of our artists a greater voice.” As dealers, the couple gravitate toward representational art, and their El Paseo showroom in particular holds space for artists with a playful, unconventional eye. These include Herb Williams, who builds charming, life-size poodles and Doberman pinschers from thousands of Crayola crayons. Visitors to the gallery might also spot Chuck Close’s arresting pixelated portraits and Hunt Slonem’s sweet, fingerpaint-style pictures of bunny rabbits. “You’re seeing these artists create works out of unorthodox or untraditional materials, and it’s really exciting,” Rich enthuses. “You’re not going to see the traditional sense of the creative process — it’s completely different.”