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The Coachella Valley is a vibrant community for the arts—a place where aesthetics still matter. Not only is it a spectacular setting; it is rich in design, architecture and the visual arts.

The area has long been fertile ground for artists and interesting personalities. Our valley’s cities encourage and support a creative culture (with a few notable exceptions … but that’s a topic for another article). We have renowned museums that share their collections and expertise with locals and visitors alike, while a wide range of galleries provide art-lovers with a diverse palette of genres from which to choose.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that the Palm Springs Art Museum has such a large and vibrant Artists Council—and it is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a huge exhibit of works by local, living artists: The Third Annual Artistic Expressions of the Coachella Valley will be on display from March 1 to April 29 at the University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert Center.

I spoke with Terry Hastings, the president-elect of the Artists Council. He explained that the Artists Council is the oldest of the nine councils of the Palm Springs Art Museum, founded back in the days when the museum was a small regional organization dedicated to Western art. The Artists Council has since grown to include 350 members.

The purpose of the Artists Council is to nurture artistic creation with exhibitions, education and networking opportunities. It was Hastings, he said, who proposed the idea of the Artistic Expressions exhibit to UCR-Palm Desert three years ago. One of the goals of this exhibit is to get art out of the museum and into the community.

This year marks the first time the exhibition is a juried show with cash prizes. There will also be a “People’s Choice” award, to be presented on April 21.

The exhibit will showcase 70 works of photography, painting and sculpture from 49 local artists, including students from the UCR Art Department. A panel of three judges selected the works being displayed.

There will also be two demonstration and discussion days by members of the Artists Council—on Saturday, March 24 and April 21, from 10 a.m. until noon. A wide range of subjects and techniques will be covered, including photography, watercolors, colored-pencil techniques, acrylics and oil painting. There will also be a discussion of art and the Internet, and how artists can promote and sell their work.

“UCR Palm Desert Center has become a hub of artistic exploration and celebration, showcasing the rich diversity of talent we have in the Coachella Valley,” said Tamara Hedges, the executive director of UCR-Palm Desert Center, in a news release. “We are thrilled to be partnering with the Artist Council on this exhibition. This is the third year, and I have no doubt it will be the best show yet.”

Third Annual Artistic Expressions of the Coachella Valley will be on display from Thursday, March 1, through Sunday, April 29, at the University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert Center, 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive, in Palm Desert. There will be an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m., Thursday, March 1; RSVP by visiting, or calling Zelda Glenn at 760-834-0592. Jurors’ award selections will be announced at the reception. Artworks are for sale, with 30 percent of sales benefitting the Palm Springs Art Museum. For more information, visit

Published in Visual Arts

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is a program offered at both the Cal State San Bernardino and the University of California-Riverside campuses in Palm Desert. Osher offers noncredit courses targeting the 50-plus population “interested in learning for the pure joy of it” at more than 100 universities in all 50 states.

Osher instructors include college professors and experienced professionals, and subjects cover a wide range of subjects, from movie-making to blogging to financial planning to philosophy. But not just anyone can join the Osher faculty; some prospective teachers “audition” with a one-day presentation, to determine whether a proposed course will meet Osher’s standards.

That is how I met Vinny Stoppia.

Vinny is the author of The Austrian Woman, aka Marie Antoinette, Queen of Versailles. Most of us know little about the infamous French queen beyond, “Let them eat cake!” Stoppia has culminated a lifetime obsession with this fascinating woman in his well-researched and enjoyably readable book. He had a tryout with Osher in front of a packed house.

How does a guy born and raised in Queens, N.Y., end up obsessed with Marie Antoinette?

“My parents weren’t readers, but when I was 8, I got a library card,” he said. “I read every book in the children’s section, and at 10, they let me browse through the adult section. I became focused on history and got interested in George Washington and the American Revolution. I found lots of references to a ‘Citizen Genet,’ the brother of the French queen’s lady-in-waiting, who came to the U.S. to try to influence America’s policy toward France. I wanted to know more about him, and no matter what I read, particularly about the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette’s name kept surfacing.

“I became an admirer of her,” said Stoppia, “when I read that when the odds were stacked against her, her response was, ‘I’m going to go forward.’ I found that so inspiring. I made a vow at 19 that I would one day write a book about her that would alter people’s perceptions of her.

“Everyone thinks of her as the pre-incarnation of the infamous Leona Helmsley of New York—self-absorbed, insular, thinking only about herself. But when she had to, she stepped up to the plate.”

Stoppia majored in French literature at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, because he had decided he wanted to read Marie Antoinette’s letters in their original French.

“I had always wanted to be a teacher, and I received two fellowships which would have taken me toward a Ph.D., but I was No. 30 in the draft lottery (during the Vietnam War),” he said. “I decided to apply for conscientious-objector status. I knew French really well, so I thought of going to Canada, but I made it past the draft board and then had to do two years of service in lieu of going into the military. Just as I was about to be assigned to a mental hospital, the United Nations took me instead.”

Stoppia wound up spending 23 years with the UN, specializing in meeting services and in keeping delegates happy. “I met all of the big world political figures from the 1970s to the 1990s,” he said.

While in New York, Stoppia worked as a volunteer with HIV/AIDS patients. “They didn’t even call it AIDS then,” he remembers. “It was a terrible experience to watch men die. People were so afraid to go near them. They even wanted us to suit up like astronauts before we went into someone’s room. I remember Easter of 1985, and one man who knew he was close to death, crying out, ‘Please, help me.’ I had to clean him up, and I remember thinking, ‘This is a privilege, a parting gift I can give to him.’ I’ve learned that not living with blinders on makes life much more interesting. There are so many stories.”

Stoppia came out to his own family at 28. “I knew it was going to be difficult. When they found out, they wanted to sell the house and move. They never got to 100 percent acceptance.

“My mom taught me about service and knowing how to get what you need, how to survive. My relationship with my dad was rocky; he always wanted to ‘toughen me up.’ I never cried as a kid; I had to ‘be a man.’ But I once had a flashback to when he was giving me a bath at about age 4, and he caressed me; I had forgotten he could be nurturing. One of my regrets in life is that I wasn’t present enough to speak with my father about his impending death, to help him on his final journey.”

Stoppia came to Palm Springs in 1993, and loves it. He has volunteered as a docent at the Palm Springs Art Museum for 17 years, teaches Spanish classes, and has given time to a local hospice.

“I got sick with AIDS after I got here, and decided, ‘This isn’t going to kill me. There’s still something important that I have to do,’” he said.

After attempting to write about Marie Antoinette during every decade of his life, Stoppia finally hit his stride and completed the book in three years. The amount of research he has done is evident—not only via the gossipy insider stories from behind palace walls that he can tell, but also via amazing photographs illustrating his presentation.

I thought Stoppia might have been a frustrated standup comic based on his flamboyant sense of humor and his ability to connect with those crowded into the auditorium, but he said he perfected his audience-friendly style in his many years of leading museum tours. “It was when I realized that those skills are what I should be bringing to my writing that the book finally just rolled out.” His take-away message: “To strive, to seek, and not to yield.”

Stoppia’s “audition” to teach the Osher course about Marie Antoinette was successful, and he is on their schedule for the upcoming season. He will show that the French queen is about much more than eating cake.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Many works included in Figuratively Speaking—the art show now on display at the University of California, Riverside’s Palm Desert campus—could very easily be found in a higher-end gallery on El Paseo or Palm Canyon Drive. The show’s curator, Ryan “Motel” Campbell—whose own works in the show are notably strong—expertly selected drawings, paintings and sculpture that depict how artists capture the human condition.

The show consists of some 30 works; it extends from the first-floor atrium/gallery space to the second floor. Unfortunately, a number of the larger pieces presented on the second floor are difficult to appreciate fully; they are too large for the space, and the lighting is poor.

Russell Jacques’ bronze, “She,” elegantly and simply presents his subject. While not as simplified and streamlined as, say, the sculptures of Constantin Brâncusi, “She” shows Jacques aiming to find the essence of the female form.  The not-highly-polished sculpture creates a midcentury sensibility, with its various curved surfaces.

Gary Paterson’s canvases are the show’s most fun. His approach is a clear nod to pop-art masters who take aim at popular culture (e.g., soup cans). Here, however, there is a difference: Paterson takes aim at those artists.

Paterson’s backdrop is a geometric pattern. He notes that his “patterns are created primarily from textiles—stitch patterns, quilting patterns—and in some cases using Notan, light/dark patterning originating in Japan.” Paterson’s subjects are also seen through the same pattern, usually painted in lighter colors. Essentially, the subject lives between the background pattern and what might be thought of as a foreground scrim.

“Blue Nude” is clearly inspired by the Henri Matisse classic. Paterson creates a background grid in ice-blue and off-white, which continues across the front of the nude—now in a darker blue that contrasts with his painting of Matisse’s iconic figure.

With “Wesselmania,” the artist spoofs Tom Wesselmann, melding the characteristics of the late pop-art icon’s works. Paterson’s brightly colored geometric rectangles, on the diagonal, create a backdrop and a sense of movement behind two nude women lying—or perhaps wrestling—on a couch. They are less people and more object, like many Wesselmann nudes: The women have big hair and no eyes, and, as the artist notes, “come across as brainless.” Behind the women are typical Wesselmann props (e.g., flowers, a stylized partial sun, flat planes of color outlined in black).

Paterson’s more-subtle use of the aforementioned grid in front of the women makes the viewer seem like a voyeur looking through sheer bedroom curtains.

Meridy Volz’s paintings—both large and midsize canvases—are among the most socially conscious pieces in the show. Up close, her use of intense, bright colors (yellow, red, blue) and sharp textured brushwork seem disjointed and, at times, jarring. However, with some distance, the impasto softens, and the imagery—even when Volz addresses difficult subjects—becomes inviting.

“Betty in Repose,” a large horizontal canvas, captures a woman, quite likely homeless, asleep on a park bench, on top of what appear to be her belongings. In the background, clusters of figures are clearly doing their own thing. These background figures—much smaller and in muted colors—push Betty forward, making her seem more isolated and disenfranchised.

Volz’s smaller painting, “Incarcerated Boys,” conveys a similar sense of aloneness. Her composition includes three adolescents positioned behind vibrant blue-white bars. The contrast is disconcerting: While the prison bars are vibrant, the boys appear isolated, confused and in disbelief.

“Socialite” is Volz’s most-optimistic painting. Dressed in a colorful, well-draped dress with a matching turban, the statuesque model stands alone. The socialite gazes away—even though her head looks straight toward the viewer. “Socialite” is reminiscent of the works of American impressionists like William Merritt Chase and John Singer Sargent. However, Volz applies her own distinct style (thick brush stokes, intense bright colors), creating an entirely different experience.

The weakest works in the show come from Alyssa Bixon and Luis Costo. Both artists are technically proficient; however, their paintings seem derivative and studied. Other artists in the show include Temo Aldrete, Larry Caveney, Gesso Cocteau, Marcy Gregory, Ming C. Lowe, Andres Orlowski, Adam Rodrigues, Laurel Thomas and Robert Yancy.

Figuratively Speaking is on display in University Building B on the University of California, Riverside, Palm Desert campus, at 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive, through Jan. 31. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 760-834-0800, or visit

Based in Cathedral City, Victor S. Barocas is a photographer, author and educator/business coach. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Visual Arts