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Thu12132018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Stephen Berger

The Desert Art Center sits nestled in two historic buildings on Palm Canyon Drive. Founded in 1950, it is the oldest art organization in the Coachella Valley.

The artists who created it 68 years ago had an expansive vision of their role in society. It wasn’t enough for them to simply express their creativity; they also believed it was important to contribute to their community.

Today, that commitment to both residents of and visitors to the valley is realized through low-cost classes, workshops, programs for students, high school scholarships, seminars and a gallery staffed by the member artists themselves. The center also provides scholarships for seniors and grants to local teachers for art materials.

The facilities themselves are worth a visit. Located in one of the first schools built in the Coachella Valley—in 1927 by Frances Stevens—the classrooms, studios and gallery are architecturally and historically important. In 1974, the city of Palm Springs purchased the site with a mandate that it be used for education, the arts and children’s programs. President Gerald Ford dedicated it as a cultural arts center.

The studios and gallery are open spaces with high ceilings, filled with light pouring in from large windows. There is an atmosphere of stability and serenity—these spaces are conducive to the creation of art.

The current Desert Art Center president, Ian Cooke, is a Brit and former horticulturist. He now teaches watercolor painting in addition to his other duties.

“We are a very welcoming group,” he said. “Whether you are an accomplished artist, a beginner, an improver, or simply an art lover, our members are willing to share their knowledge and expertise. We are open to a wide range of artists. You don’t have to be a member to take classes. We want to provide an opportunity for everyone, locals and visitors alike, to learn.

“We would like to expand our ceramics program with a dedicated clay space. Also, a purpose-built gallery would allow us to display more of our local, original and affordable art.”

Some 20 different classes are available during the year, with topics including painting, life drawing, collage, plein-air painting, stained glass and ceramic sculpture. Some of the valley’s most popular artists teach these classes. Kay Henkel, now in her mid-90s, teaches and creates ceramic sculpture.

While browsing through the gallery, I was impressed by the high caliber of the works for sale, as well as the moderate pricing. I found myself drawn to a large, luminous landscape of saguaro cacti and mountains. I noted the artist’s name, thinking it would be nice to speak with her. Around the same time, a woman entered the gallery. One of the two artists staffing the gallery said I should meet her … and she turned out to be Elaine Mathews, the name I had just written down. She graciously invited me to her home to view more of her work and talk about the center.

Mathews is a California native who grew up in Compton and studied art at Long Beach State University. She taught high school art for 30 years. After taking an early retirement, she and her husband moved to the desert.

“The desert and the light here were a big inspiration for me,” she said. “I started doing large paintings to cover my walls. I took one into the Desert Art Center, and they told me, ‘You’re in.’ I was asked to teach there. I was hesitant, because I’d been teaching for so many years. My husband encouraged me to give it a try. I liked it. It’s adults who actually want to be there.

“I like that the center is a nonprofit and carries only local artists. The city of Palm Springs really supports us. I’ve been teaching there for 15 years now. I also lead the group of plein-air painters. We go all over the valley to paint, and we have a lot of fun.”

After viewing a number of her works, I was in awe of her mastery of light, color and the desert landscape. I’m not alone in that opinion: Mathews was recently selected to be the featured artist at the prestigious La Quinta Arts Festival in 2019.

In addition to classes, the center also offers art-enrichment events, demonstrations and talks. All of these events are open to the public at no charge, while members can also take advantage of friendly and supportive group critiques of their work.

The Desert Art Center offers a two-tier membership. Anybody can be a supporting member, but gallery members must go through a jury process that takes place once a year in the fall. Gallery members can display and sell their work in the center’s gallery. They also staff the gallery on a rotating basis—so when you visit the Desert Art Center or purchase art there, you are being helped by the artists themselves.

In addition to the large gallery, there is also a small gallery where up to three members are highlighted in a revolving show, starting on the first Friday of the month.

On Dec. 7, the small gallery will feature David Fairrington and the first public showing of his in-progress Red Kimono II Project. Each painting in the series features a subject from the LGBTQ community draped in a vintage Japanese kimono. After the opening from 6 to 8 p.m., the exhibit will remain on display through the weekend.

Since this is the season of gift-giving, I asked Ian Cooke what he thought about giving art as a present.

“Art is something that stays with us for a lifetime,” he said. “Our appreciation of a work grows over time. It can make a gift that is never forgotten. However, art is a very personal experience. If you want to consider giving art as a gift, I would suggest that you bring the person you’re giving it to into the gallery to see which pieces they are drawn to. That way, you can be sure that your gift will become a cherished part of their life.”

The Desert Art Center, at 550 N. Palm Canyon Drive, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 760-323-7979, or visit desertartcenter.org. Below: a photo of the Desert Art Center.

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.

The Artists Council was established 50 years ago when the Palm Springs Museum was still primarily a natural history and science museum. The purpose of the council was to sponsor exhibitions of local artists and bring support for the arts into the mix of the museum's offerings.

The early work of the Artists Council paved the way for the evolution and growth of the museum—a transformation that was formalized with the renaming of what is now the Palm Springs Art Museum in the early 2000s.

Over the years, the Artists Council itself has grown in size and ambition. While still operating under the umbrella of the Palm Springs Art Museum, the council has recently begun partnering with other art organizations and schools throughout the Coachella Valley—and last spring, the council announced it would become a new nonprofit art organization independent from the Palm Springs Art Museum. Much of the groundwork for this metamorphosis has been completed, and in early 2019, the council will begin fully operating under its own leadership. Both the challenges and opportunities are enormous.

But first, it’s time to celebrate—with the annual Artists Council Exhibition, taking place at the Palm Springs Art Museum from Oct. 20 through Dec. 9.

I talked with Terry Hastings, the co-chair of this year’s Artists Council Exhibition, to find out more about what lies ahead for the council, local artists and our broader community.

What does the Artists Council offer to the Coachella Valley?

First of all, art is important to the mental and spiritual health of a community. It is important to have organizations dedicated to supporting local artists. They are our neighbors, friends and families. They contribute a tremendous amount to the quality of life we enjoy here. Organizations like the Artists Council promote local talent and provide a network for artists to display and sell their work. This keeps money within our community. It also allows us to meet and have a one-on-one connection with the people who create the art.

What kind of services does the Artists Council provide to members?

The purpose of the council is to nurture artistic creation. We provide our members with exhibitions to display and sell their work, critiques, demonstrations and lectures, and field trips. One of the most important benefits is the opportunity to network with other local and regional artists, art patrons and people in the community.

There are about 350 members now. We're looking to expand our membership and having the freedom to partner with different arts organizations in the valley.

How do you plan to attract new members?

We look forward to maintaining the prestige status of our museum affiliation. This affiliation differentiates the Artists Council from other art organizations in the region.

We need to be more creative and responsive to our community. All museums operate under a bureaucracy. They need to be deliberate and carefully research things before making a decision. You always need multiple approvals before taking action. By becoming independent, we increase our ability to react spontaneously.

We plan to hold more regular classes, and also more exhibitions and lectures. We want to offer higher-end classes with nationally known teachers, and we'll simplify the admissions policies. We welcome anyone eager to engage in a wide-ranging dialogue about art and its place in the community.

What are the biggest challenges facing the council?

Many of our future plans are still in flux. It's time for us to take control of our own fate. We are looking for board members with a business background to help us create and implement a new business plan and budgets.

Funding is always a challenge. Our 501(c) tax status is already in place. We will continue to receive some funding from the museum, but new fundraising events are needed.

We are looking for new facilities to continue our classes, salons, critiques and networking opportunities. We also want to establish a permanent gallery.

What is different about the annual Artists Council Exhibition at the museum this year?

I'm very excited about showing the depth and breadth of the artists in the council. The works selected for this show are penultimate examples from the finest artists living in the Coachella Valley.

It is a juried show. A very high caliber of judges was purposely chosen to reflect different backgrounds and areas of expertise. This year, the judges include Anne M. Rowe, director of collections and exhibitions at the Sunnylands Center and Gardens; Cybele Rowe (no relation), an Australian artist, professor and local resident; and Chip Tom, curator at Heather James Gallery in Palm Desert.

Artists Council members were invited to submit three pieces each, of which only one could be selected for the show. We did not give the judges any criteria and just allowed them to select the works to be included in this year's exhibition.

This year's judging has been more rigorous and intense. Because of this, there is a broader scope of work represented in the final selection of 44 pieces for this exhibit.

The judges made their initial selections from photographs, but the actual judging (for the exhibit’s awards) will be finalized once the art is hung in the museum's gallery. The awards ceremony will be on Oct. 27 at 5:45 p.m. in the museum's Annenberg Theater. The cash awards will be announced then, followed by a reception in the Elrod Sculpture Garden. The public is invited.

Uschi Wilson, a local artist and the other co-chair of the Artists' Council Exhibition (pictured below with Hastings), expressed her aspirations for the future in a written statement.

“‘Expanding the Visions,’ our new mantra, developed out of a sincere desire to make the Artists Council a creative, fresh and forward-thinking organization, serving all artists in Coachella Valley and beyond,” she said. “The Artists Council has assisted artists for over 50 years, and we are looking forward to the next 50 years, knowing that what we have in store for the future is nothing less than marvelous.”

The annual Artists Council Exhibition takes place Saturday, Oct. 20, through Sunday, Dec. 9, at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. The exhibition’s awards ceremony takes place at 5:45 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 27, at the museum’s Annenberg Theater. Admission costs vary. For more information, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org.

The Palm Springs Art Museum is celebrating its 80th anniversary with an exhibition of 80 works of art recently added to its permanent collection. The exhibit showcases the wide-ranging collections the museum has acquired over the years since its founding as the one-room Palm Springs Desert Museum in La Plaza in 1938.

Back in those days, the museum focused on Native American artifacts, natural science and the local environment. After moving among several downtown locations, the museum opened a 10,000-square-foot location in 1958—with galleries to display art, marking its transition into an art museum.

Today, the natural science and environment section of the museum has evolved into a separate public entity, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The museum now has a satellite location in Palm Desert, and also operates the Architecture and Design Center, located in a classic mid-century building originally designed by E. Stewart Williams in 1961, on Palm Canyon Drive a few blocks from the museum and performance center.

I recently visited the main museum to view the Eighty @ Eighty exhibit—and I found it well worth a trip out in triple-digit temperatures. The 80 works on display, all either donated to or purchased by the museum within the last five years, offer a great overview of the museum's diverse collections.

In the central court, a playful standing mobile by Alexander Calder, “The Lizard,” 1968, is interestingly juxtaposed, with a contemporary assemblage of a shopping cart containing a hydraulic lift: “Shopper Hopper,” 2016, by Rubin Ortiz-Torres. The shopping cart symbolizes the working-class Latino, as well as the homeless, while the hydraulic lift is a common feature in upgraded lowrider cars.

Around the corner, a large abstract painting, “Untitled (P1304),” 2013, by Penelope Krebs, uses wide vertical stripes in different shades of blue to create a work that is both soothing and cooling—like stepping out of the hot sun and into the shade.

For Tom Fruin's “Flag: Farragut Houses,” 2013, the artist stitched together drug bags that he collected over a six-month period from a housing project in Brooklyn. The resulting quilt-like sculpture is a testament to the perils of life today.

At the other end of the spectrum, Japanese artist Mineo Mizuno's “Teardrop Winter #27A,” 2009, is a study in serenity and balance. The nearly 5-foot-tall ceramic sculpture, in the shape of an elongated drop of water, changes shades gently, from white at the top to deep blue at its base.

One of the most evocative pieces is “Hand With Spot G,” 2001 by Douglas Gordon. The artist super-enlarges an instant photograph of his left hand. From a distance, I thought the dark spot in the center was a depiction of stigmata. However, upon reading the notes, I learned the image is taken from Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. In the book, a black spot is the mark of death.

The exhibit is dominated by large scale abstract paintings. There are also examples of 19th-century California landscapes, Native American ceramics, 20th-century photography, modernist chairs and a wide range of contemporary art.

“This recent-acquisitions exhibition was fun to organize in that it allows us to share stories about our collection through unexpected juxtapositions,” said Mara Gladstone, associate curator of the Palm Springs Museum of Art, in a statement. “Alongside our important Alexander Calder mobile is an interactive shopping cart sculpture by Ruben Ortiz-Torres. A muscular bronze by Jacques Lipchitz parallels a similarly powerful female figure by Alison Saar, and a glass house by Mildred Howard is adjacent to mid-century modern design by Verner Panton and an assemblage of kitchenware by Subodh Gupta. Many of these treasures haven’t been displayed before, and this installation showcases the historical strength of our collection and the exciting direction in which it is moving.”

There's time to experience this wonderfully eclectic exhibition before it ends on Sept. 16.

Eighty @ Eighty: Recent Gifts to the Permanent Collection is on display through Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. Admission costs vary. For more information, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org. Below: “Teardrop Winter #27A,” 2009, by Mineo Mizuno.

Do you remember what it was like to play in the mud? Well, Silica Studios in Palm Springs has elevated this cherished childhood memory into an artistic experience.

For 15 years, owners Daric Harvie, Dona Vanden Heuvel, and Tim McMullen have been providing professional studio space and supplies to Coachella Valley ceramic artists. It all started when longtime friends Harvie and McMullen came to the valley to take ceramic classes at College of the Desert. There, they met Vanden Heuvel—and the three of them determined there was a demand for a professional studio space where artists could have access to equipment and supplies that were otherwise available to only students in a ceramics program.

They decided a membership program made the most financial sense and opened Silica Studios in 2003. Their decisions paid off: Silica Studios allows students, novices and professional artists to grow and develop their work outside of a classroom. Still in the original location on Williams Road—near Sunny Dunes Road and Gene Autry Trail, the studios have doubled in size since opening, to approximately 3,000 square feet.

Daric Harvie gave me a tour of the facilities. At the entry, a small but impressive gallery introduces creative possibilities available through the studio door. Beyond that door are two large high-ceiling rooms. One room is for throwing clay on a potter's wheel; the other is dedicated to hand-building. Light pours in from the industrial-sized garage doors thrown open to the desert sky. Despite an outside temperature beyond 100 degrees during my visit, the space was cool and comfortable. It's meticulously organized and very clean—despite all of the, you know, mud. It felt very laid-back.

Through the garage doors are two large concrete courtyards with tables, potter's wheels and a collection of kilns that would make any ceramic artist envious. I've had my own ceramic studios over the years; they always were in a basement, dark and cramped, so I was obviously excited by the atmosphere, the space, the coolness of the air and the fragrance of the wet clay.

“Clay is such a primal experience,” Harvie said.

“I think I need to come here and make something,” I replied.

Harvie told me that he and his co-owners have tried to make a safe place to create—one that is encouraging and filled with positive energy. The focus is on high-fire stoneware and porcelain, but the studio can also fire lower-temperature terra cottas. The studio has begun producing custom dinnerware in limited productions for chef-oriented restaurants in the area. Studio artists can also do commissions for local designers.

“Is that a reduction kiln that I see out there?” I asked. Reduction firing requires a gas-fired kiln with the ability to burn off all the oxygen inside so that the glazes are chemically altered. It produces interesting glazes that cannot be achieved any other way—and it is something I could never do in a basement.

“Yes, it is” Harvie replied. “We also have electric kilns and a raku kiln in the back.”

Raku is a Japanese technique of removing a piece of ceramic from the kiln, while it is still red-hot, with a pair of tongs. It is then thrown into wood chips or other combustible materials. The burning wood chips produce iridescence and velvety textures on the clay. It's the most theatrical of firings.

Harvie said Silica Studios is home to between 25 and 45 members; it varies with the season. For a monthly fee, members have access to the studios during all business hours, and also receive a discount on workshops and firings; the latter are priced by how much space someone uses in the kiln. Members are also invited to participate in shows and sales—one during the Christmas season, and the other in the spring. Nonmembers can also use the studios for a daily fee and can bring in pieces to be fired. During the winter season, a four-session introduction to working with clay is offered for beginners. There are also kids’ classes, workshops, and instruction for both individuals and groups. Clay and ceramic tools are on sale, as are pieces by member artists in the gallery. The gallery is open to the public during all business hours.

Silica Studios is located at 752 S. Williams Road, in Palm Springs. During the summer, Silica is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday. For more information, call 760-325-7007, or visit www.silicastudios.com.

Juan-Manuel Alonso is a familiar figure at Palm Springs art events. He is tall and handsome, usually with shoulder-length silver hair and a beard. He dresses colorfully and is quick with an interesting story or witty remark.

I spent some time with him recently observing his newest creation: a new outdoor mural at the LGBT Community Center of the Desert in Palm Springs.

Juan was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1952. Although his family moved to New York City in 1960 after the Cuban Revolution, he retains vivid memories of his childhood in Cuba: The colors, sounds and tastes of those early years are evident in his paintings today. (He pointed out that the memories may only be a personal mythology, but that doesn’t take away from their relevance and power to inspire him.) Alonso was particularly drawn to the Afro-Cuban music and religious ceremonies in his neighborhood. His mother said that whenever she wanted to find him, she would just listen for the drums and follow the sound: Juan would always be there, dancing.

Alonso talked about growing up in New York City. He loved going by himself to Radio City Music Hall, and designing dresses made out of Play-Doh for his toy soldiers. He attended Erasmus Hall High School and later the City College of New York. He decided he wanted to be a fashion designer.

“The arts have always been something I enjoy,” he said.

After studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology under Donald Claflin, designer for Tiffany and Co., Alonso worked for Nino Cerruti and Willi Smith, and had an exclusive contract to design his own label for Bergdorf Goodman. He also did freelance design work in San Francisco for several years while under contract to Bergdorf since he was not allowed to work anywhere else in New York.

Alonso started painting in 1995. Around that time, he moved to Miami to care for his parents. He opened his own showroom for art, upholstery and fashion in Bal Harbour—but after a couple of years, he was forced to give it up for health reasons. The workload and stress of designing six collections a year proved to be too much.

When his parents passed away, he decided to move to Palm Springs and concentrate on his painting. It's a decision he said he has never regretted.

“Art opened my eyes, to be aware of the incredible energy that flourishes here,” Alonso said. “It has improved my health, and I have become very creative and developed my own style.”

Alonso has had numerous shows and successes in the area, but is not currently associated with a local gallery. This past December, he broke into the red-hot Miami art market with an exhibition at Art Basel. He will be spending the summer in Santa Fe, N.M.

“My inspiration comes from the memories of where I was born,” Alonso said. “I’m also very inspired by the period of time from 1890 to 1930 when the world was revolutionized and brought into the modern era. I’m inspired by Josephine Baker”—the African-American dancer who became wildly famous after dancing in Paris in 1925. “She was so liberated and had a vision of the future that is still to be realized.

“In my own work, I want to have a subconscious message—something of freedom, a message of liberation. I paint lips as hearts, because finally, they are doing no evil to each other. It’s about love and openness. It’s a very strong message. I’m sending out positivity to counter all the negativity.”

Alonso recently dealt with another serious health crisis, and during his recovery, he was inspired to give something back to the community. He said he approached the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, at 1301 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, and asked if he could donate a mural in a restroom there to commemorate the upcoming 30th anniversary of Keith Haring's mural in the men’s restroom of the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City. The Center responded that they wanted to commission an exterior mural on the staircase leading to the third-floor Center.

I’ve been watching the progress of this large-scale painting and am deeply touched by both the subject matter and Alonso’s message of positivity. For those of us who survived the AIDS crisis, it is especially poignant.

The mural covers the two curved walls of the staircases. Between the first and second floor is Alonso’s depiction of what Palm Springs means to him. There are mountains and a deep blue sky, as well as the bell tower of Desert Regional Medical Center rising above palm trees and buildings, complete with swimming pools. One can also spot the tram and multitudes of windows painted in the colors of the rainbow flag. Everything is rendered in a joyful and whimsical style.

As one ascends the stairs, the wall between the second and third floors reveals five life-size dancers floating in the same deep-blue sky, one for each of the letters L, B, G, T and Q.

“These dancers represent all of those who are only with us in spirit now,” Alonso said.

The wall rises up to an open ceiling where the blue of the paint exactly matches the sky above. The dancers are surrounded by doves of peace—and they look like they could float upward to dance across the real sky. It’s a reminder that although many loved ones might no longer be in our physical presence, our memories keep them alive, and they are still watching over us.

For more information, visit www.alonso-art.com.

Sir Winston Churchill is an iconic giant. He was a renowned statesman, a two-time British prime minister, a Nobel Prize-winning author—and perhaps even a savior of Western civilization.

However, most people don’t know he was also a painter—and few have had the chance to see his art. This makes The Paintings of Sir Winston Churchill, on display at Heather James Fine Art in Palm Desert through May 30, a rare treat.

Churchill (Nov. 30, 1874-Jan. 24, 1965) was born into one of the great aristocratic families of Great Britain, the Spencers; another Spencer was Princess Diana. His father was a politician, and his mother was an American-born British socialite. Winston joined the British Army and was elected to Parliament in 1900.

Churchill began painting in 1915, after stepping down as the political head of the British Navy. He was a self-taught artist, but because of his stature, he was able to befriend many of the top British painters. He was always modest about his work—but successfully entered several competitions under assumed names.

He painted in the Impressionist style and preferred to paint outdoors. It’s estimated that he produced about 500 paintings over a 40-year period. He never sold his work and only gave paintings as gifts to his friends and relatives. Most of his work remains in the museum at Chartwell. There are a few pieces in other museums, with the remaining paintings in private collections, including those of Queen Elizabeth II, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

The value of Churchill’s art has risen dramatically over the years. A painting originally given to Clare Booth Luce, “Chartwell Landscape With Sheep,” sold for 1 million pounds in 2007.

“Although painting was just a hobby, Churchill learned new skills which he used in his political and diplomatic life,” said Duncan Sandys, a great-grandson of Winston Churchill, according to a Heather James news release. “It gave him a sanctuary during adversity and, I believe, made him more effective in 1940 as Hitler prepared to invade Britain.”

The 11 paintings on display at Heather James Fine Art are from the 1920s to 1940s, from the collection of the late Julian Sandys, Churchill’s eldest grandchild and Duncan’s father.

I asked Chip Tom, a curator for Heather James Fine Art, how the exhibit came to the valley.

“The exhibit came about from a local desert person introducing us to the Churchill family,” Tom said. “We have been working with the family for about 6 months in trying to organize bringing the paintings to the desert.”

Tom said the response to the exhibit has been fantastic. “Part of the mission of Heather James Fine Art is to bring world-class, museum-quality work to the desert communities and make it available to the public,” he said. “This is for everyone in the valley. We’re not a museum, but you can come and enjoy great art, and there is no entry fee.”

I made several visits to the gallery to spend some time with these paintings. The hand of the artist is palpable; they are very honest works. There are areas that speak of technical brilliance and artistic insight, but Churchill doesn’t try to hide the struggle and frustration when he didn’t get it quite right. As an amateur painter myself, I found this encouraging.

There are nine landscapes, a seascape and a still life in the collection. “On the Var,” from 1935, is the largest and most polished. It reads as a tribute to Cezanne—but there is an area in the foreground, depicting a small stream, that was obviously problematic for Churchill. In “Lake Near Breccles in Autumn,” also painted in the 1930s, he had no such problem: The surface and reflections of the water are rendered in confident and fluid brushstrokes reminiscent of Monet’s waterlilies.

We will never know exactly how painting influenced Churchill’s role as a statesman, leader and writer. However, we do know painting was important enough to him that once he picked up a brush, he never traveled without his paint box, canvases and easel.

The exhibit The Paintings of Sir William Churchill is on display through Wednesday, May 30, at Heather James Fine Art, 45188 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert. For more information, call 760-346-8926, or visit www.heatherjames.com.

Several monthly art walks take place in the Coachella Valley. They’re pleasant ways to spend cool (or perhaps not-so-cool) desert evenings.

The galleries involved all put on their best faces, and many of them schedule new exhibits to coincide with the events. You can wander at your own pace; talk with artists; and get a feeling for what is happening in our community. You’ll probably be offered light snacks and a glass of wine—and there’s often a performance thrown in as well.

I recently had the opportunity to attend two of them: One in Palm Springs, and the other in Cathedral City.

The Backstreet Art District in Palm Springs hosts its event on the first Wednesday of the month from 5 to 8 p.m. It’s located on Cherokee Way, discreetly hidden behind the Mercedes-Benz dealership off Highway 111. If you haven’t been before, you’ll feel a little bit like an explorer once you find it. It’s a collection of individual galleries and artist studios housed in a compact strip mall. There isn’t much else around, and it’s not visible from the highway.

I arrived just after sunset and found small groups of people wandering in and out of brightly lit storefront galleries. My first stop was Tom Ross Gallery, which features the exquisite abstracts of the artist Rosenberg (aka Ross). He uses a technique of back-painting on acrylic panels to create shimmering lace-like panels in metallic colors. The works have real depth to them because of the technique—and the finished pieces are often a surprise to the artist himself. He describes the paintings as “meditations.”

Around the corner is Galleria Marconi. I spoke with artist Marconi Calindas about his work. He’s originally from the Philippines and divides his time between San Francisco and Palm Springs. His paintings are brightly colored graphics reminiscent of early pop art. At one of his exhibits, he said, he was asked if he’d ever looked at the paintings through 3-D glasses. He was offered a pair—and was surprised to discover his paintings jump into three dimensions. Be sure to witness the transformation for yourself.

Poldi owner Julianna Poldi is a teacher at the Desert Art Center. The exhibit I saw featured her work and that of her students. I was impressed with the quality of her students’ work; I would have never guessed it was a student art exhibit.

At Maxson Art, Greg and Linda Maxson offer a delightful mixture of their own work and pieces by artists they represent. Linda does hand-painted ceramic tiles and paintings. She’s working on a new series that incorporates burlap fabric attached to the canvas, which is then over-painted to create subtle abstracts. Greg makes beautifully crafted wooden boxes that are also musical instruments. There’s a collection of stained-glass kaleidoscopes from another artist that is sure to inspire oohs and aahs with the glittery displays. I was also treated to a performance preview of storytelling by Los Angeles performer Larry Dean Harris.

The highlight of the evening was the exhibit at Stephen Baumbach Photography Studio and Gallery. It’s the first comprehensive show for artist Rebecca Dant. Rebecca teaches printmaking at the Create Center for the Arts; I met her during my volunteer work there. In the show, she presents not only her recent prints, but also paintings and tie-dye art that has not been previously shown. The paintings are a knock out; I could easily live with one or two of them. The abstracts contain multiple references to Miro and to Matisse’s cut-out period. It’s a rare opportunity to see stunning work.

For more information, visit www.backstreetartdistrict.com.


The Second Saturday Art Walk on Perez Road in Cathedral City has a decidedly different flavor. The industrial-retail complex setting is much more urban and gritty—but certainly just as interesting. This art walk is scheduled every second Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m.

Several businesses near the galleries are open for the event as well. A couple of midcentury furniture stores are on hand, and if you enjoy rummaging around estate sales (like I do), Mel’s Estate Sale is fantastic. The owner, Malina, will delight you with tidbits of wisdom and humor as you rummage through her incredible collection of just about everything.

Custom metal artist Jeffrey Spakes works in hand-ground aluminum; his space is a combination gallery and studio. The wall pieces have color applied at high temperatures that makes the works appear to change as you move in front of them. He also created the palm tree for the Cathedral City New Year’s Eve ball drop. The palm tree is now being repurposed into a fantastical giant statue of the Tin Man in the back of his studio.

If you’re looking for sculpture or ceramic art, Trenz Gallery is a great destination. The all-white space is a perfect setting for brilliantly colored glass, ceramic and metal sculptures. There are some exceptional paintings, too. It’s all about color in this jewel box of a gallery.

Irreverence in Art: The World of Robyn Goudy occupies the front space in the Colliding Worlds Fine Art Gallery. The dense collages immediately reminded me of outsider and tramp art; they are witty and irreverent. The artist himself is both of those things as well. I asked him where it came from. “It comes from my attitude,” he replied. Well, as they say, attitude is everything.

For more information, visit www.discovercathedralcity.com/event/2nd-saturdays-art-walk-perez-road-2017-10-14/2018-04-14/.

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 palmdesert.ucr.edu/programs/events.html, 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 psmuseum.org/artists-council.

Times are tough for community-oriented arts programs.

Despite record-setting prices for art at auctions, funding for public art and education is evaporating—or has already dried up. School districts have decreased course offerings in art, music and the humanities. As a result, to some art-lovers, the future appears bleak.

Enter the CREATE Center for the Arts. A year ago, the center opened its doors in a converted thrift store on Highway 111 in Palm Desert, and the 12 months since have been marked by accomplishment, tragedy and a dogged determination to survive.

The CREATE Center’s mission statement, “to create community enrichment through the arts,” is epitomized by founder and director Debra Ann Mumm. I’m a relative newcomer to the valley arts world, and as I’ve talked to local gallery owners, artists and museum representatives, one name kept coming up: I was told, “You have to meet Debra.”

I wanted to learn more about the CREATE Center and the woman who is the driving force behind it. I decided to volunteer there for a week and see what was going on for myself.

When I met Mumm, I was immediately swept up in her enthusiasm. She has big plans—really big plans: She envisions a multistory building serving the needs of artists, performers and designers by providing education, studio space, exhibitions and event space—available to everyone in the Coachella Valley.

“I want to make something that lasts—a permanent art center, something that increases accessibility,” she said.

Mumm described herself as a creative child. She majored in film and theater. Her first job was delivering blueprints—although the company also sold some art supplies. Later, a course at College of the Desert and interactions with local artists convinced her there was a need for a local art-supply store. She opened Venus Art Supply in Palm Desert, and started some art classes as a way to sell more paint. That led to sponsoring struggling artists and providing low-cost studio space. She’s received numerous awards and honors for her contributions to the arts community over the past 25 years, and the CREATE Center is the culmination of her history and core belief that art changes lives.

The center provides workshops and weekly classes. Low-cost studio space and equipment is available. Local artists can exhibit their work in both juried and non-juried gallery shows. Free and low-cost youth programs offer art education for kids 5 years old and up.

In its first year, the CREATE Center has made a big impression—but along with the recognition has come heartache.

On my first day of volunteering, I was asked to take down the memorial exhibition of works by Susan Smith Evans, and wrap the works for storage. Susan was a popular teacher at the College of the Desert, and a prolific painter and printmaker; she was also one of the founding board members of the CREATE Center. She was killed last March in an accident at her home, within months of the center’s opening.

Her husband, Ron Evans, a ceramics teacher at College of the Desert, asked the CREATE Center to be the permanent home for his wife’s art. He died on Nov. 30.

I talked with Michele Ohanesian, an instructor at the center, about the highs and lows of the first year. Susan Smith Evans was her first art teacher in college, and Ohanesian said Smith Evans was her inspiration to become a professional artist. As for the highlights, Ohanesian said the center’s energy—including people just walking in the door to ask what was going on—was the best thing about the it.

Things happen quickly at the center—and change is constant. Two days after my last volunteer shift, I had this story all planned out when I got a text from Debra Ann Mumm: “We’re moving tomorrow.”

A new space had become available. It was less expensive—a critical consideration for a fledgling nonprofit. It also allowed the center to move its private studios into the same location as the classes and exhibitions. This, too, saved money, and would benefit both the professional artists and the students by having them in the same space.

Mumm had big plans for the space, she said. Her enthusiasm caught me. I returned the next afternoon to help pack for a couple hours.

The CREATE Center for the Arts is located at 73733 Fred Waring Drive, No. 106, in Palm Desert. The center will hold a first-anniversary celebration from 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 13. For more information, call 760-834-8318, or visit www.createcenterforthearts.com.

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