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The Coachella Valley is home to picturesque mountains, gorgeous blue skies—and an ample number of residents who can afford fine art.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that Palm Springs has become a beacon for art-lovers in Southern California and beyond. The art scene is vibrant and bubbling with growth, with dozens of art galleries here, as well as numerous art shows—none more prestigious than Art Palm Springs, the annual five-day art exhibition and show at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Scheduled to coincide with Presidents Day weekend and Modernism Week, Art Palm Springs attracts a growing number of art-lovers each year.

While exhibitors from all around the globe take part, Art Palm Springs is special and personal to the participating galleries that call the Coachella Valley home.

“For us, it’s (important) because it’s the regional fair. We are pretty much at home, and it’s nice to get to play in our own sandbox,” said Alec Longmuir, director of art at Melissa Morgan Fine Art, a contemporary art gallery located in Palm Desert.

Melissa Morgan Fine Art focuses on contemporary artwork with an international roster of well-known artists, featuring works that patrons would normally see in Los Angeles, New York, London or Paris galleries. Longmuir said that although the gallery travels all over the world for different types of art fairs, Art Palm Springs feels different.

“It’s near and dear to our hearts; we like the organizers very much,” Longmuir said.

The relationship between the festival and the gallery has always been interactive, even throughout the various management changes within Art Palm Springs.

“The first year we did it, we did a big retrospective for Andy Moses, and they honored him at the fair,” Longmuir said. (Andy Moses and his father, Ed Moses, were Art Palm Springs’ Artists of the Year in 2018; in fact, Andy Moses graced the cover of the February 2018 edition of this very newspaper.) “Then last year, we did an exhibition for Anthony James, who has been all over the news as of late.”

James’ sculptures and installations are known for experimentation with light and color—and received major attention during the 2019 Art Palm Springs.

“We’ve had a good turnout,” Longmuir said. “We are always happy to support (Art Palm Springs), and they’ve supported us.”

Galleries participating in an event like Art Palm Springs need to not only show off art that meshes with the aesthetic of the gallery; they need to show off art that’ll appeal to the attendees.

“We know what sells!” Longmuir said. “We know that we are in Palm Springs, and in the desert, some people have a higher net worth acquired, so they can afford some great artwork.”

While Melissa Morgan participates in a variety of shows and fairs, Art Palm Springs is the only major art show in which Barba Contemporary Art participates, owner Michael Barba said.

“We’ve been involved for a year,” said Barba, whose gallery is located on Indian Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs. “The quality of art that they show is really great. When I opened my gallery, I believe I was approached by them—and it was a natural fit.”

Barba said his gallery focuses on contemporary abstract art.

“About half of our artists are local, relatively speaking,” Barba said. “They are local to the Coachella Valley, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Palm Springs. There are a lot of paintings, but we also have sculptures and other arts.”

It’s important to replicate the gallery experience in the exhibition booth at the fair, Barba said.

“We bring to the fair art that is representative of the art that you would find in the gallery,” he said. “I try to make the booth at the fair feel like another room in the gallery, so that if someone walks into the booth, or they see it from the convention center, they can have an idea of what the gallery feels like, and what they can expect if they come into the gallery.”

Barba said Art Palm Springs offers his gallery exposure to a wider range of art-lovers.

"It’s a local event, and I think it’s good exposure for the gallery,” Barba said. “A lot of people, whether they come downtown or they just come for lunch, they might not necessarily wander around looking for art galleries. But people who go to the fair are going there specifically for art.”

In other words, the fair is a form of advertising.

“It’s a way people can be introduced to (the gallery),” Barba said. “Obviously, sales are ideal, but the main reason why we are in the fair is exposure. It’s a form of advertising, and it is a way of reaching people who are interested in what we are selling.”

Five-time Art Palm Springs exhibitor Jorge Mendez, of Jorge Mendez Gallery in Palm Springs, carries contemporary art and deals directly with established artists who have exhibited before at other museums or galleries. He agreed that the fair helps his gallery receive attention from art-lovers it wouldn’t otherwise receive.

“It’s a great experience and great for exposure for the rest of the valley.”

Art Palm Springs is the only large fair at which Jorge Mendez exhibits. Mendez said he does so because it allows him to share the limelight with renowned artists—from places as far away as Asia and Europe—without ever having to leave home.

“(I exhibit) only because it is a very reputable fair,” he said. “It’s basically in my backyard, so it’s very easy for me to transport the artwork.”

Art Palm Springs takes place Thursday, Feb. 13, through Monday, Feb. 17, at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, in Palm Springs. Single-day admission is $25; VIP tickets, which include the Thursday night VIP reception and are good for admission throughout the festival, are $100. For tickets or more information, visit www.art-palmsprings.com. Below: "How Far Can I Go" by Ariel Vargassal at Jorge Mendez Gallery.

Published in Visual Arts

Two of the Coachella Valley’s top galleries—one from Palm Desert, and one from Palm Springs—will be showcasing their hottest artists at this year’s Art Palm Springs.

Formerly known as the Palm Springs Art Fair, Art Palm Springs takes place at the Palm Springs Convention Center Feb. 16-19.

Downtown Palm Springs’ Jorge Mendez Gallery will bring the paintings of Ariel Vargassal, and figurative abstractions by David Baca.

“The gallery is showing contemporary art in general, but our artists are more modern and a little edgy … (creating) artworks that are designed to influence the current tastes and opinions of a newer generation of art collectors,” Mendez said.

Vargassal is a popular artist with humorous themes, Mendez said. “Vargassal masters the hyperrealism technique with a modern, sharp and sometimes provocative approach of the subject of his paintings. His interpretation of the human body is precise and real in every aspect, from skin tone to hair, facial expressions and even eye expressions. Humans and animals become together in his latest series, Totems.”

David Baca is an artist New Mexico. “His work has a mid-century feel to it,” Mendez said. “Tension, relief and man’s presence in the landscape are of interest in his work.

Jorge Mendez Gallery will also show the works of Christian Gill, Brian Huber, Vladimir Cora, Lori LeBoy, Rafael Lopez-Ramos and Barbara Gothard. (For more on Gothard, see the accompanying story.)

Mendez said he’s delighted to take part in the growing fair. “It’s exciting to be part of such an important and sophisticated event, and it’s equally exciting to be among so many renowned galleries coming from so many different countries.”

Meanwhile, Palm Desert’s Hohmann Fine Art will present flourishing painter Kimber Berry, awarded ceramicist Laurent Craste and renowned painter Robert Dunahay. Hohmann Fine Art will also host a book-signing by talented chiaroscuro photographer Greg Gorman.

Hohmann rarely represents new artists, but the gallery made an exception for Kimber Berry, whose work was a hit at Hohmann’s booth at Art Miami.

“It was a big success, so we will feature a couple of Kimber Berry works in Palm Springs as well,” said Christian Hohmann. “She did a big installation with paint flowing off the canvas onto the floor and creeping up the ceiling. It was very impressive.”

Hohmann said ceramicist Craste recently received a big honor. “He is a Canadian artist of French descent, and his work was just selected to be on the cover of a new compendium of all the relevant international contemporary ceramic artists, The New Age of Ceramics, and he will do a book-signing at the fair during the VIP opening night.

“We will show at least one of Robert Dunahay’s new works from a brand-new series of black-and-white minimalistic abstract compositions, painted with crystalline sand. Although Robert became famous for his Palm Tree paintings and is mostly known for that, he has ventured out and had many successful, albeit lesser-known series. We will try to break that perception and show some of his more experimental work instead of the tried-and-true.

“Last but not least, Greg Gorman, the iconic Los Angeles based photographer, will be at our booth on Saturday to sign his latest book, Private Works. Gorman was one of the first openly gay photographers of his generation, and the book allows a peek behind closed doors.”

Hohmann Fine Art’s booth should be hard to miss: It will be one of the largest at Art Palm Springs.

“We feel strongly that the fair has become a highlight of our season, because it gives us an opportunity to show our local clients that we can compete and even outshine some of the important galleries from metropolitan areas around the world,” Hohmann said.

Hohmann said his goal is to get the attention of fair-goers. Given the high price points of art, clients often want to think about a piece rather than buying it on the spot.

“The fair in Palm Springs is not about selling; that, we do out of the gallery,” Hohmann said. “At the fair, we want to make a dynamic impression and evoke responses. There’s a lot of competition. We show what we feel will resonate—something to remember.”

Hohmann Fine Art is currently celebrating its 40-year anniversary; Christian Hohmann’s parents opened the gallery in Germany in 1976.

“My father’s philosophy, which we adopted for the gallery, is, simply and humbly: originality, quality, consistency and longevity. When you select art like that, there are much fewer artists to choose from, but they usually stand the test of time—and trends don’t affect them much.”

Art Palm Springs takes place at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, from Thursday, Feb. 16, through Sunday, Feb. 19. One-day passes start at $20; weekend passes start at $75. For tickets or more information, visit www.art-palmsprings.com. Above right: "David Michelak, Los Angeles, 1987" by Greg Gorman. Below: "Not All Who Wander Are Lost" by Kimber Berry.

Published in Visual Arts

Tim Shockley’s sculptures almost seem alive—as if they have a mind.

The works in his Taming the Wild West series—they look like wire tumbleweeds, but are so much more—represent the conflict between the West’s nature and man’s development.

Then there’s his Loose Ties series. Is it just me … or do those ties have a serpent-like vibe?

“The tie relates to corruption—symbolic of a Bernie Madoff-type guy in a suit and tie, who then rips you off!” Shockley said.

Shockley is just one of the artists whose works can be viewed at Art Palm Springs, the ever-growing annual art exhibition formerly known as the Palm Springs Fine Art Fair. This year’s fair, at the Palm Springs Convention Center, takes place Feb. 16-19.

Shockley is just one of a handful of local artists whose works will be shown at the fair. He’s represented by Myers-Kovich Gallery.

“It’s a contemporary gallery based in Laguna Beach, and they are showing some of the most innovative and inspiring artists working today, and I am very excited to be showing with them,” he said.

His new Taming the Wild West series will be featured at the fair.

“It consists of large tumbleweeds fabricated from barbed wire and coated in 24-karat gold,” he said. “This work is not a departure, but a step forward in my endeavor to create art that withstands the test of time. It is a statement series having to do with our species and our constant attempt to control the environment around us.”

Another newer series by Shockley, Loose Ends, takes everyday objects—neckties—and transforms them into works that are beyond unique.

Loose Ties has the quality of tweaking the general perspective of an ordinary object into interesting subject matter,” Shockley said. “With this work, I’ve taken a stagnant necktie and cast it in metal in the very fluid shape of a serpent. I use vibrant patinas on some to create striking patterns, while others are dipped in 24-karat gold or silver.”

Shockley said he thinks the works in the Loose Ties series give off a strong feeling of corruption or scandal.

“It all makes sense when you realize I started this series during this country’s financial meltdown,” he said.


Barbara Gothard is another local artist whose works will be shown at Art Palm Springs. The gallery representing Gothard is also local—Palm Springs’ Jorge Mendez Gallery.

Gothard’s paintings often show a dreamy vision—interrupted by linear lines or window frames. Gothard considers her work more abstract than realistic, and in fact, the paintings in her recent Hurdles series may be even more abstract than her previous works.

“My new hurdles or obstacles dissipate or break up,” Gothard said. “… The hurdle is to represent symbolic obstacles, as opposed to a realistic window. In recent years, rather than a window frame, the shape (in my art) has a free form, not a rigid rectangle.”

In these Hurdles series works, shapes are broken apart. A viewer may very well see pain and disruption.

“The Hurdles are symbolic and represent the obstacles we face in life—and in my case, may be autobiographical in terms of recent traumatic experiences,” Gothard said. “When the Hurdles first appeared in my work, they appeared as dark, very rigid, industrial forms that tended to dominate the picture plane but contrasted with architectural elements and … landscape elements. More recently, the Hurdles are breaking apart, exposing life behind them. The use of windows or other openings between the Hurdles represents options that everyone possesses.”

Each series done by Gothard has a strong theme, and Hurdles is no exception.

“The focus of my artwork is the concept of expansion: Expansion of the visual space within the canvas, and expansion of the principles that guide my creative process—moving from a more surrealism-influenced approach, and expanding my color palette from a minimalist color scheme to colors that are more reflective of my current environment—the desert,” Gothard said. “(I am) placing the organic with the abstract to result in a contrasting effect.”

Art Palm Springs takes place at the Palm Springs Convention Center, 277 N. Avenida Caballeros, from Thursday, Feb. 16, through Sunday, Feb. 19. One-day passes start at $20; weekend passes start at $75. For tickets or more information, visit www.art-palmsprings.com. Above right: “Exposed,” from the Loose Ties series by Tim Shockley; cast bronze with patina (2015). Below: A work from the Hurdles series by Barbara Gothard.

Published in Visual Arts

An imposing, highly polished, ebony concert grand piano confronts all visitors to Ruth Gonzales’ workshop. Consuming a third of the available space, the piano would make more sense in a music conservatory than an abstract painter’s studio space.

However, a quick look at the remaining space shouts: An artist works here! Palette knives, brushes, mortars-and-pestles, paints and other tools of her craft populate the atelier. All of remaining spaces are lined with large, partly completed canvases. One yet-to-be stretched painting can be found flat on the floor, just a few steps from the front door.

Gonzales was born, raised and trained as a classical figurative artist in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, three hours south of the Arizona/Mexico border. The artist worked as a missionary in Southern Mexico and spent time in Tijuana before moving to this desert in 1990.

The artist’s classical training presents itself in her abstractions: forms are suggested, not obvious. Her deconstruction process produces a tremendous sense of depth.

“It is her understanding of form,” said Jorge Mendez, of Jorge Mendez Gallery, “that allows her to retain its essence while creating an abstract painting. Her finished pieces contain a unique tension.”

Gonzales told me she finds painting on a flat, two-dimensional surface not to be limiting, but to be “freeing.” Her freedom is likely furthered by the fact that the natural and reflected light in her studio produces an ethereal, almost otherworldly aura that is inviting yet mysterious.

When first moving to the desert, Gonzales took a series of classes, including art classes, at the College of the Desert. “The desert became my inspiration as a painter,” she said. “I find the sand, the blue-black, starry nights, the purplish-brown mountains and our blue skies totally engaging.”

Gonzales said she realized she needed to expand the type and range of materials she applies. The artist still uses traditional oil paints (from the tube). “However,” she said, “those materials limit me. I am increasingly drawn to raw pigments that I can mix with linseed oil or apply directly to the canvas.”

Gonzales’ use of these pigments expands her ability to enhance the textural elements of her finished works. At times, she will also prep her canvas with unexpected materials, like sand.

The artist credits the late Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo as a major influence. Both rely heavily upon raw pigments, and both artists employ a limited number of colors. There is a difference: Tamayo chose distinctly different and contrasting colors. Gonzales realizes a world built from multiple layers of melded colors, nuanced shading, refracted light and textures. Unlike other painters who apply multiple and thick layers of paint, Gonzales’ finished pieces are neither weighty nor imposing. Her paintings emanate a lightness that is inviting and engaging, giving others opportunities to create their own unique experience, conversation and narrative.

There is an organic quality to all of Gonzales’ paintings. It appears that she starts by applying layers of bright white gesso and/or pigments, and the artist’s canvases offer an inherent luster and/or sheen. This is especially true with “Chakra Sun.”

To ground her composition, the artist painted the bottom section of “Chakra Sun” in lush greens. The sporadic addition of contrasting light blue brushstrokes added richness. Above the greens, Gonzales painted a square in varying shades of gold. Because she presents the perimeter in darker shades of the same color, the square seems to radiate its own light. To complete the canvas, the artist introduces angular brushstrokes in carnelian and off-white; she creates what appear to be luminescent stick figures marching across the canvas.

It is incorrect to assume “Liquid Mind,” a large, imposing, horizontal canvas, is a departure. The artist remains true to her aesthetic and process—but in reverse. In contrast to her usual approach of building up colors to create spaces where forms seem to float, the artist here seems to be carefully stripping away previously developed layers of ground pigments, color and paint. The planned combination of highly textured, visually tactile surfaces and a limited palette makes “Liquid Mind” into a highly introspective and inward-looking painting.

“White Mist and Blackbirds” best exemplifies her organic approach and classical training as a figurative painter. Here, the foreground seems like a filmy scrim or mist hovering over a lake. It is through that uneven whiteness that Gonzales presents outlines of forms in bluish-black pigments or paints. The forms seem sketched, and the unevenly painted light tan background amplifies the sense of forms floating in space.

For more information, visit www.ruthgonzales.com. Jorge Mendez Gallery, 756 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, shows her work regularly. For more information on the gallery, call 760-656-7454, or visit jorgemendezgallery.com. Below: "White Mist and Blackbirds, "Chakra Sun" and "Liquid Mind."

Published in Visual Arts

A new gallery, with a focus contemporary Latin American art and artists, has joined Palm Springs’ growing Uptown Design District.

Jorge Mendez Gallery plans to bring “underrepresented (Latin American) artists” to the “underserved U.S. marketplace.” And if its current show, Contemporary Mexican Masters, portends future shows, Jorge Mendez Gallery will offer a great alternative to the often formulaic art found in other desert galleries.

Most gallery artists are representational, with a considerable number rooted in the figurative tradition. Contemporary Mexican Masters spotlights five artists, including Alberto Castro Lenero and Amador Montes, who were born in, were trained in and create their work in Mexico.

Vladimir Cora’s inspiration comes from his home in Nayarit, in western-central Mexico, and he has a distinctive style. First, he almost exclusively paints the human head and face. Second, he outlines each head to separate it from the background. Lastly, Cora’s works project an early cubist quality.

The artist’s large canvas, “Retablo V” (above), is more than an academic study of the human head and face. Cora—clearly referencing the devotional paintings frequently found in Latin America—brings more than 20 different-sized, triangular or oval-shaped heads and necks to the canvas.

Against a burnt-orange background, the artist outlines each face in black. His faces tend to be deeply tanned. Some, perhaps those in the shade, have a lightly applied blue wash. Using black paint, he produces indigenous-looking facial features. The hair, painted in a dark black, appears to define gender. Cora creates a sense of depth by varying the size and shadings of the heads, and sometimes having heads overlap. Each face projects a defined personality and mood. This keeps the painting fresh, interesting and not repetitive.

While “Retablo V” might be considered pensive, Cora’s women in his “Cabeza” series generally come across as far less serious. “Cabeza Con Fruitas” seems light hearted and, in some ways, carefree, with the oversized head taking up about 85 percent of the large canvas. The forward-facing model is front and center; avoiding the outward stare of her left eye and occluded right eye is difficult. Tropical fruits in greens, oranges and yellows create the appearance of an aura or halo. Caro illuminates his model from the left. Despite her having a green tinted face, she is approachable. The right, or shaded, side of the model’s face is neither attractive nor unattractive. It is, however, quite different from the left side of the painting. Here, the muddy dark-orange, brown and yellow paints result in a highly worked and dense complexion.

Armando Amaya’s sculptures offer a balance to the large canvases. His works, both in bronze and marble, are sensuous to the eyes; they invite touch. His sculptures are reminiscent of the classic female nude, as portrayed by many classical sculptors and painters.

When working with marble, Amaya demonstrates a real respect for the stone. He takes great care to bring out the marble’s smooth, subtle luster. In “Mirislava Acostada Flexionada,” a reclining female figure is stretching. Her arched back and outstretched arms, projecting way beyond her head, suggest that she has just yawned.

The experience with “Emelia Acostada Boca Arriba” is totally different. Here, Emelia lies on her back. His treatment of the soft marble produces a highly sensual sculpture: The nude seems to be sunbathing, totally relaxed and at ease.

Jazzamoart Vazquez’s paintings, while in some ways disparate, retain a common visual dynamic and technical adventurousness.

At first glance, “La Taberna de los Sueños Sincopados” (right), roughly translated as “The Tavern of the Syncopated Dreams,” seems like time-lapse photography. A blur of off-center brown and light-tan lines move toward the center of the canvas. The artist forces one’s eyes to take in the entire canvas, and what emerges is a highly complex portrayal of an active nightclub. The lines become the beamed ceiling, leading to a far wall that looks like an old Catholic Church with similarities to the Sistine Chapel. By using a fine paintbrush to apply deep-dark-brown paint, Vazquez creates sketch-like figures and forms. The canvas is a vibrant place for the eye to wander and revisit. 

With “Chencho Sax (Sax Dude)” (below), Vazquez pays homage to Francis Bacon by satirizing Bacon’s satirization of Diego Velázquez's “Portrait of Pope Innocent X.”

In Velázquez’s original painting, a stately pope, positioned on a raised platform, sits on a throne-like chair. Both Vazquez and Bacon imitate Velázquez’s seating of the pope; however, their treatments of Innocent X differ greatly. Against a dark background, Bacon cordons off the pope in thick gold cord. A screaming pope appears imprisoned by vertical beams of murky purplish white lights; Bacon’s ominous and sardonic message cannot be avoided.

Vazquez’s reworks Bacon’s classic to make it his own. Through his active brushwork, Vazquez again ensures the eyes take in the entire canvas. Vazquez’s painting contains a clear political and social agenda, but his riff is biting and humorous. With the derogatory title “Chencho Sax,” we see austere pope reduced to an overweight, fat, ugly and scowling saxophone-playing commoner.

Contemporary Mexican Masters is on display at Jorge Mendez Gallery, 756 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, through Saturday, May 31. The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday; and noon to 5 p.m., Sunday. For more information, call 760-656-7454, or visit www.jorgemendezgallery.com.

Published in Visual Arts