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In October each year, a trailer pulls up in front of a gallery at the north end of the design district in Palm Springs. It’s packed full of art.

Behind the wheel is gallery owner Woody Shimko (right). He’s just completed what he calls his 3,000-mile bridge between two of the most iconic gay destinations—Provincetown, Mass., and Palm Springs, Calif.

Shimko has galleries in both towns. During the fall and winter, the art is here in Palm Springs. In the spring, it will cross back over that figurative bridge and spend the summer in Provincetown. Having just endured another blistering desert summer, I thought this sounded like an ideal lifestyle. I asked Shimko how it all came about.

“Provincetown has been an art colony for over 100 years,” Shimko said. “Palm Springs has been a creative design location for decades. What I try to do is show work that will appeal to designers, other artists and anyone else interested in buying work for their homes.

“The biggest difference, really, is the time of year. That is really why I opened both spaces. Provincetown is so quiet in the winter, and Palm Springs certainly slows down in the heat of the summer.”

Shimko opened his first gallery in Provincetown in the 1990s.

“After opening it, I took a job in Tokyo. Having both the job and the gallery was a little … OK, way too much,” he said. “I bought a house in Palm Springs as a stop-over. After being in Japan for 15 years, I decided to open the gallery in Palm Springs. The following season, I opened the gallery in Provincetown, hence (the gallery’s slogan), ‘3,000 Miles of Art.’

“The gallery in Palm Springs is about the same as in Provincetown. I show local artists and also artists from the East Coast. In Provincetown, I show local artists and artists from the West Coast. I don’t really show ‘regional’ art—no palm trees in Palm Springs, and no fishing boats in Provincetown.”

The Woodman/Shimko Gallery here is not one of the spacious, spare, minimalist galleries for which Palm Springs is known. Instead, it is packed full of an astonishingly varied collection of paintings, sculpture, metal work, prints and ceramics. In the rear is a section of vintage glass and dinnerware, including pieces from Tiffany and Lalique. There are even some old Lionel trains and tongue-in-cheek Japanese souvenirs. My favorites are the artfully packaged “sushi sox,” a pair of socks folded and presented as sushi.

The gallery also displays some of Shimko’s own creations, accent tables constructed out of discarded tools.

“The way I choose the work is: If I want to hang it in my home, I’ll show it at the gallery,” he said. “And yes, I do have a few pieces that I have shown that are not entirely my style, but that’s where showing a range of work comes in.

“I am always open to seeing new work. If it jumps out at me, then I’ll likely show it for a time. Work that is in conflict with artists that I already represent is art that will not work for me.”

I’ve heard Woodman/Shimko Gallery referred to as a “gay” or “homoerotic” gallery before. Shimko had his own take on these labels.

“There are some people who come in and say they love the ‘gay’ gallery, but that is not a term I use to describe the spaces,” he said. “I do show a number of male images, but I don’t focus on them. My most popular artist, Cassandra Complex, paints only men. There is nothing erotic about the images, but when people see them, they assume it’s a gay man painting the images. That’s most likely why I am termed a gay gallery. But if that’s what people think of the space, cool—I’m happy with that. The only real homoerotic art I have shown—and have had to warn families about if they came in with their kids—was the Tom of Finland collections I have shown. There’s no fig leaf on the statue of David, so I’m OK with showing male and female nudes.”

Shimko said he will be focusing on Cassandra Complex’s art during this Pride season.

“Her work is truly an icon for gay men,” Shimko said. “The second-biggest buyer for her work is lesbians. Even our straight customers are drawn to her. The Kennedy family bought three of her pieces over the years. Cassandra lives outside of Boston. She is self-taught and paints men’s faces that she makes up in her head. None of the faces are real people. After her father died 10 years ago, she went through depression, and his was the first face she painted. He was a rugged man, so she keeps that look going through for her father.”

Complex has an unusual painting technique: She applies paint to the canvas with a deck of playing cards.

A couple of other artists stood out to me. Christopher Sousa’s portraits of young men evoke a surrealistic, dream-like character.

“Christopher Sousa is based in Provincetown and is one of the most sought-after artists,” Shimko said. “Before becoming a successful artist, he worked at a coffee shop in town and would draw images on coffee cups that he would give to his customers. He is represented by another gallery in Provincetown, so I can only show him in Palm Springs. Many of his models are friends of his or people he knows in town.”

Another artist, Robert Rainone, creates male nudes—not with paint, but by cutting through different colors of matte board.

“Robert Rainone is an architect in New Jersey,” Shimko said. “His precision in drawing has led him to create some truly amazing matte-board cutouts,” Shimko said. “Many of his pieces are between six to nine layers of matte board. You can see him do a number of his pieces on YouTube.”

I asked Shimko about his favorite elements of Palm Springs.

“The views and the design element,” he replied. “The architecture is amazing. There are many people that not only buy art, but live in art.”

Woodman/Shimko Gallery is located at 1105 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. It is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily. For more information, call 760-322-1230, or visit www.woodmanshimkogallery.com.

Published in Visual Arts

When Woody Shimko travels from Provincetown, Mass., to Palm Springs, he packs up more items than just a few extra T-shirts: He packs up works of art.

He owns galleries on both coasts, and he hauls a large collection of art that is melded into one show, linking artists that work 3,000 miles apart.

The Woodman/Shimko Gallery, at 1105 N. Palm Canyon Drive in the Uptown Design District of Palm Springs, features work by both artists local/regional and from his gallery in Provincetown. The broad collection offers an eclectic mix of contemporary, modern and realistic paintings and photographs that are a perfect fit for the modernism of Palm Springs.

Shimko opened the gallery in January 2013. Contemporary artists such as Richard Ransier from Los Angeles, Roger Allen Mosser and Austin Calloway from Palm Springs, and Cassandra Complex, Christopher Sousa, Chet Jones and Larry Collins from Provincetown have shown work there. Beyond the paintings, sculptures and ceramic art works, there are tables designed and built by Shimko, made from industrial materials, with antique Japanese shoji screens. Woody Shimko’s partner, Ray Nocera, help set up the gallery so Shimko would have a place to show his coffee tables that he designs and creates.

“The (slogan) for the gallery is ‘Provincetown to Palm Springs: 3,000 Miles of Art,’ said Shimko. “It was started five years ago, and it showcases the work of artists from both coasts. For years, I was the visual director at companies such as Bergdorf Goodman, Armani and Tiffany. Then after working 15 years for a design company in Tokyo, I came back and realized that after collecting art for so many years, perhaps it was the thing to do to open a gallery and showcase artists that I admire.”

November’s shows include Palm Springs artist Hank Hudson, an award-winning magazine art director, designer and photographer who is the former art director of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. He was also art director for Cosmopolitan magazine and Glamour magazine, and was the design director of TIME magazine’s Style and Design special issues.

Also highlighted will be Provincetown artist Cassandra Complex. “My art is a meditation on, as well as an attempt to capture, the moment when a complex inner life meets the unyielding outside world,” she says in an artist’s statement. “It is at this instance when the character of my subjects is truly revealed. The landscape of the face is capable of revealing, to the viewer, all the truths that have ever been known. Each subject reveals themselves, in as much as what they refrain from, as they do in the most overt of expressions. In my work, I wish to expose the internal life: that secret life that lives within us all.”

Artists including Gabe Fernandez, Chris Lopez and Gregg Ross will be featured as well.

The gallery in the past has shown the works of local and non-local photographers Jeff Palmer, Ronald David Erskine and Terry Hastings, all from Palm Springs; and Eileen Counihan and Bobby Miller of Provincetown. A selection of sculptures at the gallery includes works by ceramic artist Paul Bellardo, metal artist Terry Hastings and local bronze artist James Messana.

The Woodman-Shimko Gallery is located at 1105 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. For more information, including hours, call 760-322-1230. The gallery’s website is woodmanshimkogallery.com.

Published in Visual Arts

Lee Balan is well-known as the town crier, of sorts, for the area’s arts. He gathers information about receptions, events, performances and exhibits throughout the Coachella Valley and High Desert, and sends it to anyone who wants it.

However, many people don’t know about Balan’s talents as a visual artist. Some of his newer works will be on exhibit at Woodman/Shimko Gallery in a Gay Pride-themed show, starting with a reception on Friday, Nov. 6.

Before moving to the desert from the San Francisco Bay Area more than a decade ago, Balan frequently integrated his art with his other professional responsibilities. For example, Balan, as the director of a San Francisco mental-health program called The Clubhouse, demonstrated how creative efforts can be effective tools when working with the mentally ill.

Some might consider Balan’s current arts emphasis—the digital manipulation of visual images—quite different from the assemblages and sculptures he created during his time in the Bay Area. However, that assessment is inaccurate: His work consistently shows his ability to reinterpret, rethink and ultimately give new meaning to an existing object or picture. Balan notes that he began exploring digital art back in the 1980s with what is now considered a computer relic: a Commodore Amiga.

The works being exhibited at Woodman/Shimko reflect Balan’s expert application of Photoshop tools. Balan begins with an isolated individual image; he then creates layers by melding and superimposing images to create a total composition.

In this show, the only work in which he does not layer various images is “Freedom.” Here, a woman in white rides atop a black-and-white horse. The entire background is black. However, Balan does two things to make this image complex and dynamic. The first involves his angling of the horse and rider: Using a technique developed by Asian artists and later explored by the French Impressionists, Balan positions the horse and rider at an angle, creating both depth and motion. Second is the addition of a colored banner. Against the stark black-and-white composition, the multicolored flag breaks the monotony of what would otherwise be an overly stark and possibly boring image.

Layering and not-so-delicate shading are at the core of “Guardians” (first below). Below Buddha’s eyes, a Christ-like figure presides over a forward-facing nude angel, seated with his arms wrapped around his knees. Behind the central figure’s right and left are two additional angels: one profiled, but facing outward; the second is farther back in space, perhaps disappearing into the distance. The mood of “Guardians” is unsettling and eerie. The potentially peaceful nature suggested by the Christ figure and Buddha’s eyes is disrupted by the positioning of the angels, the electric colors and the shading.

Balan uses layering to play with one’s experience of space and time in “The Park” (second below) using a technique reminiscent of that of Peter Milton. However, Balan—unlike Milton—includes greens, oranges and yellows, creating depth that is more explicit than implicit. Thanks to the layering, the positioning of the picture’s elements appears to be changing. The composition is populated with trees that might appear in a classic drypoint or etching; Balan then embeds various figures—primarily young, attractive men. In the center of the composition, floating amidst the trees, is a Ferris wheel.

In addition to his work as a visual artist, Lee Balan is a poet and author who maintains an active blog. The artist welcomes comments on his poetry, short stories and essays at leebalanarts.wordpress.com.

The opening for Lee Balan’s Gay Pride-themed exhibit takes place from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday, Nov. 6, at Woodman/Shimko Gallery, 1105 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, and the exhibit will remain on display through Thursday, Nov. 19. For more information, call 760-322-1230, or visit the event’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/events/1067997383218435.

Published in Visual Arts

Who would endeavor to elevate the lowly, utilitarian dish rag into a highly collectible art form? The Japanese would—and the reasons why can be discovered at Woodman/Shimko Gallery in Palm Springs.

Dating back to 800 AD, tenugui, first made in woven silk, were used use in religious rituals. By the early 19th century, tenugui became a prop for storytellers as part of a comical monologue or a traditional story. When Japan began to cultivate cotton during the 1800s, tenugui were transformed into a household necessity to be washed and reused—artistic dish towels, in other words.

The size of tenugui have not changed since the ninth century: Each is 35 by 90 centimeters, or roughly 13 3/4 by 35 1/2 inches.

“I received my first tenugui as a gift,” said Woody Shimko, of Woodman/Shimko Gallery. “It was a hand towel that had three Japanese words: tree, grove, forest. I was hooked. Today, my collection nears 3,000.”

The tenugui creation process—which has not changed for centuries—results in unique pieces of art. Tenugui masters and their apprentices begin by dying pieces of bleached cotton cloth. Depending upon the season, weather, humidity, temperature, etc., no two colors are the same.

At first, tenugui look like nothing more than hand-painted fabric. However, that assumption is incorrect: a master, after creating one stencil, or a series of stencils, applies layers of color onto the fabric to create each finished piece. The stenciling process is akin to silk-screening.

To satisfy an ever-increasing interest in the art form and create competition among different artisans, tenugui masters expanded subjects to include landscapes, geometric patters, abstracts, wildlife, people and quasi-representational images.

Given their utilitarian origins, Tenugui are almost never titled. Even today, households change their tenugui dish towels seasonally, and tenugui are often acquired to mark various holidays.

“Over the past half-century, many artisans began to infuse humor into their tenugui,” Shimko said.

In a move from home to commerce, tenugui became business cards carried in a pocket or briefcase; they also became a vehicle to promote businesses. For example, for a sushi restaurant may have the restaurant’s name, address and an image of a fish or piece of sushi on tenugui. Some sumo-wrestlers and kabuki actors use them instead of autographed pictures,

Tenugui collectors in the United States are increasing rapidly, in part because of the art’s affordability; high-quality pieces range in price from about $250 to $350. While pre-1950 tenugui can be found, they are costly, because many were destroyed during World War II.

Today’s collectors tend to focus in on a specific subject or theme. Seasonal images are frequently collected, as are abstractions, animals, landscapes, humor and promotional items.

It’s a treat to see this fairly unknown art form on display at Woodman/Shimko Gallery. Be sure to give these gorgeous dish rags a look.

The tenugui show at Woodman/Shimko Gallery opens with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m., Friday, March 27, and continues through the end of April, at 1105 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. The gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 760-322-1230, or visit www.woodmanshimkogallery.com.

 

Published in Visual Arts

Welcome to my new column, which will feature reviews of and news about of the Coachella Valley art scene.

My goal is to cover the various galleries and the exhibitions, from the newly appointed galleries on North Palm Canyon Drive, to the Coachella Valley Art Center in Indio.

I have been a resident of the desert for 33 years and have seen so many galleries come and go. The good news is that there are great new galleries sprouting up, to the delight of the art community, which is a rich blend of local artists and transplants from other parts of the country.

One such new gallery is the Woodman/Shimko Gallery, at 1105 N. Palm Canyon Drive—next to Archangel Art Collective, and across from the noble, iconic Michael H. Lord Gallery.

I recently met with the gallerist, Woody Shimko, who established a presence in Palm Springs after operating a gallery in Provincetown, Mass., for several years, where during the peak season, more than 100 people an hour came through the doors. The gallery has an eclectic representation of various artists included in a contemporary setting, with photography, large abstract portraits and modern works chosen by Shimko, who has had much experience in gallery management and creative direction on a global scale.

The gallery scene in Palm Springs evokes a feeling of Bohemian Soho and the L.A. Underground, which is chic, hip and radiates a certain street-scene modernity that blends well in the company of the modernism and mid-century dwellings that Palm Springs has catapulted in international consciousness.

Elsewhere in the desert, art-lovers can purchase art ranging in price from a few hundred dollars to millions of dollars—in the galleries on El Paseo in Palm Desert, such as the sterling Heather James Fine Art.

The exhibitions at Heather James are legendary, from contemporary to European impressionists to the masters (such as Rembrandt) with other amazing works by emerging artists, all the way up to blue-chip art at its finest.

When I lecture on early California art, people are often amazed to learn that this entire area developed into an artist colony toward the end of the California gold rush in 1849. Artists from all over the globe came to witness the legends of gold flowing in the streams. An exotic mystique was born, giving a focus to the New West, where California's reign as the Golden State began.

The artists’ colonies that had developed in the early 1800s moved into the Arroyo Seco near Pasadena, where the great powers of Christianity had helped pave the way to the missions, from Riverside to Indio. These early artists made pilgrimages to experience the majestic mountains with hues of lavender and splendid sunsets beckoning to be painted on canvas, thus forming the plein-air movement of American impressionists.

The Coachella Valley was and is a place of inspirational natural beauty for artists to contemplate and create. I am delighted to see that the art scene continues to flourish—and I look forward to telling you all about it.

Richard Almada is the CEO and president of Artistic Relations, and heads up Desert Art Tours. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Visual Arts