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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

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