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Victor Barocas

Highbrows beware: Another nail is being hammered into the coffin that contains what was once deemed “fine art.”

The hammer in question: a pneumatic hammer wielded by Pascal Pierme, a mixed-media artist whose show at Hohmann Gallery on El Paseo in Palm Desert has been extended until June 20.

The exhibit includes some well-executed freestanding wood sculptures. However, these works remain secondary to the visual and creative vision offered by the artist’s wall sculptures.

While each piece is unique, each sculpture shares at least one or two stylistic elements (like texture or finish), an emotional draw or a color palette with at least one other piece on display.

Like collage, Pierme’s wall sculptures are best viewed in two different ways: From a distance, the viewer can take in the entire composition; close up, the viewer can better understand the artist’s creative process, including his choice of materials, his technical expertise and the attributes used, like texture or shading.

The artist’s use of color ranges from high-gloss paint and veneers to semi-gloss, and he uses subtle shading with muted—not muddied—colors. In fact, his works tend to be more about painting than wall sculpture.

“Pierme’s works are neither paintings nor sculpture,” Hohmann points out. “They are something in between—sort of a manifestation of architecture and space.”

“Les Origines 98” is rather boring when looked at head-on: The viewer sees 11 long, thin, rectangular strips of wood hung vertically. The wall becomes the canvas, since each strip hangs at the same height above the floor, and the spacing between strips is identical. The only thing that differentiates each strip from the others is the number and varying diameters of half-circles cut out from the sides of each strip.

Five steps to the left or right of center changes the conversation from “Blah” to “Wow!” The cutout areas appear in distinctly different colors: a yellow tinged with green on the left, and light blue with gray on the right. In the Les Origines series, Pierme remains true to his Minimalist style; he embraces simplicity yet manages complexity.

“Antipodes 2” (below) dominates space and commands attention. This 6-foot-by-6-foot work is more painting than sculpture, featuring 12 unique square panels. The top and bottom rows have two square panels, while the middle two rows each have four, creating a plus sign, of sorts. The 12 squares share the same size and the same palette of subdued earth tones: light sand, reddish ochre, solid black, deep teal, dark polished granite, light tan with the grain visible, dark red blood agate, and aubergine. Pierme remains true to the Minimalist aesthetic here, while also including elements of Conceptual Art by using a grid to define the size of each square, the layout and the spacing between panels.

Over the past several years, Pierme’s aesthetic and innovative techniques have received increasing recognition and respect among both artists and collectors. “Most recently,” a Hohmann said, “a Pierme piece has been acquired by the MOCA in Atlanta.”

The work of Pascal Pierme is on display at Hohmann Fine Art, 73660 El Paseo, in Palm Desert, through Monday, June 20. For more information, call 760-346-4243, or visit www.hohmannfineart.com.

“Fundamentally antagonistic” is an appropriate phrase to use when describing the works of John Sloan and Alexander Calder, two celebrated artists who set benchmarks during the first 75 years of the last century.

Over the first half of the century, Sloan incorporated New York City’s energy with social commentary through his oils, drawings and prints. As a Sloan protégé, Calder learned to create highly detailed, technically exacting and subtly nuanced oils, prints and works on paper. Sloan’s influence was reflected in Calder’s early works. However, Calder did not imitate his teacher.

Shortly after graduating from art school, Calder—who had previously earned a mechanical-engineering degree—reinvented himself, in the process redefining sculpture. Sometime in the early 1930s, a Calder piece at a gallery exhibition announced his unique and highly personal aesthetic: One avant garde artist called it “mobile.”

About five years later, the artist re-branded himself yet again, and further broadened the definition of sculpture. Calder coined the word “stabile” when asked to define it.

Calder’s mobiles and stabiles demonstrated his unique ability to create unexpected artistic synergies. More specifically, he produced art that reflected his ability to leverage his creative right brain (art degree) concurrent with his analytic left brain (engineering degree).

While Calder is best known for the mobile and stabile, Calder’s creative output included both two-dimensional (paintings, fine art prints, works on paper, drawings) and three-dimensional works until his death in 1976. Often, there appears to be a “conversation” between works on paper and sculptures. In other words, a work on paper may be the basis for a sculpture, or vice versa.

The fantastic Calder show on display through May 30 at Heather James Fine Art in Palm Desert includes a number of stabiles and mobiles. Most are smaller and intimate, making Calder’s language and aesthetic more accessible.

However, the stars of this exhibit are Calder’s prints, drawings and works on paper. The Heather James team wonderfully organized a show that introduces Calder as a visual artist who moves seamlessly between two- and three-dimensional art.

The impact is most pronounced when facing the expansive wall at the back of the gallery. The entire space, from floor to ceiling, is populated with an array of strong Calder prints, drawings and gouaches. A first look at the wall can be overpowering. However, if one mentally breaks the wall into smaller groups of Calder’s works, understanding replaces overload. Almost all of Calder’s works on paper and prints do three things: They engage the viewer, require interpretation and are infused with humor and whimsy.

In “Le Petit Rouge” (upper right), a later gouache and ink on paper, the artist paints two four-legged animals: one red, and one blue. While painted clearly, what they are, exactly, is defined by the viewer. A jackal? A dog? Both have claws, not paws, as well as Doberman pinscher-like ears that might also be seen as horns. Lastly, the blue animal sports a grin reminiscent of that of the Cheshire Cat. However, is this grin playful or impish … or perhaps sinister?

Throughout his life, Calder remained fascinated with and inspired by the circus. A large number of his sculptures and works on paper contain circus-related themes, dating back to his years at the Art Students League. In the print “Circus,” the artist effectively synthesizes and encapsulates the energy, complexity and delight Calder found when visiting the big top, all without sacrificing his trademark palette of primary colors, plus black and white.

As expected, the ringmaster, much like the conductor of an orchestra or band, stands front, albeit just left center. Like a conductor, he is dressed in top hat and tails. However, the ringmaster here traded in his baton for a bullwhip. Swirling around the ringmaster is a horse, presented in red and outlined in blue, creating a sense of ongoing motion and flow without seeming forced. A clown in the bottom left foreground appears to be engaging the audience. A trapeze artist, clearly preparing to jump to a new swing, adds to the dynamic.

To reinforce the sense of motion, Calder—by adding two large red circles and a series of 12 broadly printed blue lines—creates the illusion of spotlights moving around the performance area. As in “Le Petit Rouge,” Calder’s horse smiles. There is also an irony: All of the human circus performers show no apparent emotion.

In “The Handstand,” a bronze created in 1944 (below), Calder conveys the sense of whimsy, imagination and fun with which he is associated. In keeping with Calder’s style, the artist leaves the viewer to determine the gender and age of the figure. However, this and another small sculpture, “Cheval II,” created during the same years, appear totally un-Calderesque. In sharp contrast to the simplicity and elegance associated with his mobiles and stabiles, these pieces seem like unfinished, rough first drafts that require significantly more work. They appear heavily influenced by Giacometti, with a roughness unexpected in a Calder work.

The Alexander Calder exhibition is on display through Monday, May 30, at Heather James Fine Art, located at 45188 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 760-346-8926, or visit www.heatherjames.com.

I’ve spent more than 45 years learning about art and artists—and I remain in awe of Marc Chagall.

The unlikely artist was one of nine children born into an extremely poor, highly religious Jewish family. Chagall grew up in a shtetl (a small, ghetto-like village) in Vitebsk, Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire. He married his muse Bella Rosenfeld in 1909; he moved to Paris in 1910.

Chagall’s personal style and creativity flourished after moving to a Parisian art colony, where he received exposure to the early 20th century avant garde creative-art movements. This highly prolific artist’s successes extend well beyond traditional media, like painting, drawing and printmaking: He also championed frequently overlooked art forms, including stained glass, fiber arts and mosaics.

Throughout his life, Chagall created art that frequently contained a narrative reflecting his youth in Vitebsk. While some might think—incorrectly—that much of his art was too narrowly focused, Chagall created works that contain a universality transcending geographic borders, art movements and historical events. His work remains coveted by museums and collectors worldwide.

The fantastic exhibit Chagall for Children, a traveling show that is at the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert in Rancho Mirage through April 27, does far more than present opportunities to view original and reproductions of works by this master. Unlike traditional museum exhibits, Chagall for Children includes 14 “play” stations. Each station is paired with a specific Chagall creation and engages visitors to use their senses in various ways. Additionally, guests can explore their own creative style: At each station, visitors are tasked to imitate, interpret, rethink, deconstruct and/or reconstruct this icon’s creative process. In a sense, visitors are encouraged to be Marc Chagall.

Billed as an exhibit for children between ages 2 and 12, this show will actually delight visitors of all ages. While I was there, I spied a 70-plus-year-old woman, walking with a cane and having trouble while trying to sit on a small child’s chair.

Once seated, she looked intently at “Paris Though the Window.” After listening to the station’s commentary with the earphones, she gleefully announced, “I have always tried to figure out Chagall’s approach to perspective and sense of space.” She expressed glee about bringing her grandchildren to see the show.

Near the stained-glass work “America Windows,” visitors can reconfigure pieces and change the amount of light coming through their own interpretation.

“Children frequently ask, ‘Did I do this right?’’’ said Lianne Gayler, the museum’s director of development and marketing. Her response? “There is no right or wrong. It is up to you.”

On the walls surrounding the learning stations, a series of panels provide a timeline of Chagall’s life; each offers context that shaped the master’s art, including biographical events, art movements (like cubism, suprematism and fauvism) and historical events (such as the two world wars).

Irrespective of the world around him, Chagall remained true to his own personal style that was marked by complexity (witness “The Juggler”); unexpected colors (“Green Violinist”); optimism, caring and love (“Birthday”); incongruity including soaring figures (“The Flying Sleigh”); and whims (“The Rooster”).

Chagall’s forays into various different movements were each short-lived; he wound up reinterpreting elements of various movements into his own style. In “I and the Village” (below), he incorporated the basics of cubism into his own personal aesthetic, color palette and visual vocabulary. Essentially, his visits to other art movements were vacations, not relocations.

Chagall’s imagination demands attention, and his narratives frequently transform people, animals and objects in unexpected ways, demonstrating his unabashed optimism and playfulness.

Christian Hohmann, of Hohmann Fine Art on El Paseo in Palm Desert, is an underwriter of the exhibit. “It was, for me, a no-brainer,” he said. “Our gallery has long championed Chagall’s unique contributions to modern art.”

More importantly, Hohmann is father of two young girls, “(The Children’s Discovery Museum) is a place where my children can go have fun and learn. With public schools cutting back on the arts, the importance of the Children’s Discovery Museum is heightened.”

Sharon and Robert Freed also sponsored the Chagall for Children exhibit.

Chagall for Children will be on display at the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, 71701 Gerald Ford Drive, in Rancho Mirage, through Wednesday, April 27. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday; and 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday. The museum is also open every third Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. Admission is $8, with discounts; all adults must be accompanied by a child, and vice-versa. For more information, call 760-321-0602, or visit cdmod.org.

In the arts world, Debra Ann Mumm—president and founder of the family-owned business Venus Studios Art Supply, in Palm Desert—is an oxymoron.

She’s a successful artist. And she’s a successful entrepreneur.

In the industry, many art galleries and supply shops close within months of opening. However, Venus Studios is celebrating its fifth anniversary with an art expo in January—and the business has not stagnated; in fact, it has expanded. Venus’ expansion about three years ago led to a significantly larger gallery space, an increased number and variety of courses, private areas individual artists can rent, and an art-supply store that carries the latest materials and is the only store in the desert where some products can be purchased.

Unfortunately, artistic purists and entrepreneurial purists alike bash Mumm. The artistic purists claim that Mumm sold out and is now a lesser artist. The entrepreneurs impugn her efforts because she lacks the singular focus demonstrated by the best entrepreneurs. In other words, Venus Studios has too many individual and seemingly separate initiatives.

Mumm laughs at both groups. She would tell, quite bluntly, the entrepreneur complainers that their criticisms are without merit. For example, Mumm sees Venus Studios’ public-murals wing, PLANet Art, as offering practical solutions to big-picture issues. The artist asserts that murals and other large-scale works foster communication and build bridges that are not possible with traditional written and spoken language.

Whether or not explicitly articulated by Mumm, her and her studio’s socially responsive initiatives are based upon three powerful business models and theories: “synergy,” as discussed by systems theorists; “collective unconscious,” or images, concepts and beliefs that are contained within every culture; and the fundamental gestalt psychology principle, “The sum is greater than each of the parts.”

Mumm says she’s a “lifetime doodler” who has always made art. Before founding Venus Studios, her professional title was “trained materials specialist”: She explored the surface and subsurface interactions (chemical and structural) between specific acrylics and non-acrylic surfaces.

Over the past few years, Mumm’s artistic vision, like her business, has increased in scale. She’s moved from small-scale canvases and paintings on found objects to larger works with defined presences.

“Inner Dimension” is a dreamy piece. By connecting the organic with potentially hard-edge geometric forms, and by using light-to-medium blues and greys on a highly textured object—a wood plank, probably a found object—Mumm produces a clearly 21st-century piece with a 1950s retro sensibility. Both the palette and organic forms are vintage 1950s, while the easily missed purplish-blue grid floating in and out of the other objects and shapes moves the work forward some 50 years. “Inner Dimension” could be hung over a sofa and not be called “sofa” art: Each visit to the piece reveals something different and fresh.

The otherworldly qualities of “Just Beyond” (above right) make it hard to find a frame of reference in the visual-arts arena. Some elements seen reminiscent of the transcendental movement; however, Mumm’s harsh backlighting makes the piece’s inclusion in a modern offshoot or reinterpretation of the works of the transcendental painters of the 19th-century Hudson River School impossible. The otherworldly qualities seem better-suited to the transcendental school that came from New Mexico’s early modernists.

The best fit, however, is probably not the visual arts, but contemporary Gothic and horror literature. On some level, Mumm—a voracious reader who in December rolled out a new blog—may in some way be channeling contemporary novelists, like Stephen King, in a visual format.

Two icons of American innovation and business meet with Mumm’s “Smith and Wesson Meets Westinghouse.” However, the meeting is not pleasant. The front door of an old Westinghouse refrigerator hangs on the wall. By highlighting and exaggerating the discolorations, dings and dents, Mumm makes it easier to recognize the obvious. The emotional impact of the piece becomes evident once the perforations are recognized as multiple bullet holes, quite possibly caused by a Smith and Wesson gun.

In contrast, a childlike sensibility of freedom and hope is present in “Taste the Rainbow” (below). Created from an old, partially broken wood pallet, the wood’s textures remain; however, they support and do not conflict with the overall composition. In lieu of removing or repairing the broken slats, Mumm reinterprets them. Ultimately, they add an almost sculptural quality, especially when they are a foil to the shadows they create.

Going forward, Mumm sees herself doing more writing as she continues to paint with found objects as her primary canvases. Meanwhile PLANet Art continues to thrive as she talks with other desert businesses and cities about murals and other large-scale projects. For example, she recently worked with the Westfield Mall on a mural project.

Venus Studios Art Supply is located at 41801 Corporate Way, No. 7 and 8, in Palm Desert. The shop and gallery are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday. For more information, call 760-340-5085, or visit www.venusstudiosartsupply.com.

Temperamental artists took to the Internet after the Palm Springs Art Museum announced the works that would be included in the Artists Council Exhibition 2015.

Normally, the complaining ends within a week of the announcement; however, this year, the comments seemed especially fractious. While most selected artists took pride in their inclusion, many Artists Council members who were not included criticized every aspect of the selection process, from the number of jurors to the number of submissions per artist. (Full disclosure: I submitted art to the show which was not selected.)

Some suggested that the museum create a show featuring the rejects. Regrettably, a small contingency made the conversation personal, impugning the integrity and competency of Artists Council peers.

The results of the selection process are now on display for everyone to see. Unfortunately, I found a fair number of the pieces to be derivative, in a way that does not add to an understanding of an artist or school of art. In addition, I felt some included artists need to rethink their message, and how it is expressed. However, since I am in the awkward position of being a reviewer whose own work was not selected for the show, I’ll focus on the pieces that were decidedly successful.

The narrative presented by Debra Thompson’s assemblage-encaustic “Newtown 26” contains at least two stories: In addition to skillfully honoring the lives lost as a result of the Sandy Hook killings, the artist covers her journey toward a personal understanding and reconciliation of that event in the context of the Second Amendment and the need for the United States to find a better way to address the mental-health needs of its citizens.

Thompson constructed a less-than-pristine American flag out of a series of materials. Some of the 50 white stars are missing. In their stead, the viewer sees the bottom of shell casings. Old Glory’s white stripes are an encaustic or waxy substance, upon which grayish-white faces of children are presented. As with the stars, a number of faces are replaced with the bottoms of shell casings. The most subtle and ultimately disconcerting component of the flag is its stripes: The six stripes that would normally be red consist of crayons—bordered by bullets.

Philippe Chambon continues to create visual spaces that are seemingly in constant motion. As he’s done on many other canvases, Chambon employs a limited number of deep, highly saturated and frequently muddied colors in “Reflection No. 34: ‘The Kiss.’” The artist applied purples, blues and greens to this 40-by-40-inch acrylic on canvas to create a merger of geometric and curved shapes. To enhance the dimensionality, Chambon outlines each shape or object with black paint. However, it’s his use of bright-white paint that makes the viewer’s eyes dance around the canvas. Surprisingly absent is the artist’s usual letter-like iconography.

Offering a contrast to the intensity of the works of Thompson and Chambon work is Alison Hunt Ballard’s woodblock relief print “Double Bond (Latere),” from her Trans Isomerism series. In this 30-by-22-inch work on paper with a mustard background, the artist shows two kneeling women with long black hair. Ballard presents one woman in a darker green-grey, while the second woman is presented in a lighter green-grey. A sense of connectedness is created by having each woman wrap her arms around the waist of the other. The message of connection is furthered by the depiction of the two, similarly shaped, overlapping heads. Inside each woman’s abdominal area sleeps a content, curled-up cat. Do these cats, presented inside a solid-red oval shape, represent wombs?

Bob Hoffmann’s 40-by-32-inch piece “Midcentury Modern” is separated from the less-successful pieces with a midcentury design thanks to its execution. Yes, “Midcentury Modern” contains all of the characteristics of the period (colors, geometric shapes); however, Hoffmann’s use of sewn fabric to develop and execute his creative intent makes the piece a unique addition. Beginning with a grid, the artist deconstructs the space with his use of a creamy-beige fabric. The deconstruction process results in a set of geometric forms, like rectangles, squares and trapezoids. Hoffmann completes his composition by inserting contrasting colored fabric into the open geometric shapes. While some spaces are filled with shades of the same color (deep blues, lime green), two complementary colors, such as orange and yellow, are used in others. Lastly, one space includes what seems like confetti with many of the colors frequently chosen by midcentury designers, architects and artists. The sewn-together pieces of fabric create a softness that is hard to achieve with paint.

The Artists Council Exhibition 2015 does indeed offer museum visitors an opportunity to see some excellent pieces created by local artists. However, it also includes a number of pieces that, in the eyes of some (myself included), aren’t worthy of the Palm Springs Art Museum. Check it out—and decide for yourself.

The Artists Council Exhibition 2015 is on display through Sunday, Dec. 6, at the Palm Springs Art Museum, located at 101 N. Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. The works are on sale, and 50 percent of the proceeds go toward the museum’s education programs. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; and noon to 8 p.m., Thursday. Admission prices vary. For more information, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org.

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.

To tweak (and possibly abuse) Dickens’ classic line: “It was the best of heels. It was the worst of heels.” This sentiment summarizes the Palm Springs Art Museum’s recently opened exhibit Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe.

Organized by New York City’s Brooklyn Museum, the exhibition introduces visitors to the evolution of the high-heeled shoe. Inside each of the many free-standing plastic-glass cases are between 4 and 7 high-heeled shoes. 

Each case speaks to either a social/historical event that triggered a specific theme (like space exploration) or the transformation of a style over a period of time (over-the-knee boots, stiletto heels). In addition to the plastic-glass cases, the exhibit includes six short films.

The curators see high heels as far more than footwear. The exhibit presents heels as an individual and/or societal interpretation of beauty, wealth, mystique and fantasy, as well as role, status and power. Essentially, each high heel is an iconic symbol that reflects and captures a cultural zeitgeist. 

Unfortunately, creators of the earliest, century-old heels shown in the exhibit are unknown. However, most of the heels shown from early in the 20th century onward were created by and/or attributed to major haute couture designers, like Chanel, Tom Ford, Ferragamo and Prada. Examples are also included from individual shoe designers and industry-specific design houses such as Louboutin, Walter Steiger and Céline.

The show offers visitors insights into the history and creation of high heels. Given their design and execution, many shoes are instantly recognizable as magnificent pieces of art; their inclusion in a museum or private-art collection, especially a collection that focuses on sculpture, is a no-brainer. Since we each define beauty differently, the show’s narrative helps us understand the inclusion of heels that many would deem ugly, unwearable or weird.

While the earliest heels can be traced to Greece, Asia or Egypt, this exhibit truly begins with Europe. Designed and constructed from the most valuable materials of their time, like woven silk and velvet, many heels sparkle thanks to the inclusion of silver and gold threads. It is not uncommon to find seed pearls and other precious materials as part of the final product. These shoes were frequently worn at formal and special events. From the 20th century onward, these same materials—alongside things like mother-of-pearl, crystals and semiprecious gemstones—were integrated into couture high heels, slippers, hogs and platforms, like Nicholas Kirkwood’s “Pump” (below) with its paisley-inspired swirling crystals in silver, gold, bluish-grey and purplish-white.

Most heels from the late 1800s onward in the exhibit were creations of American and Western European designers, with the smattered inclusion of intriguing Middle Eastern and Asian pieces. The broad range presented includes stilettos, platform/high-heeled combinations, over-the-knees, conceptual high heels, and shoes made of both traditional (leathers, patent leather, fabrics) and innovative materials (carbon fiber, bamboo). Might Winde Rienstra’s “Bamboo Heels” (top right) be seen as promoting sustainable fashion?

Long, thin and slender, like the Italian dagger for which they are named, stiletto heels are associated with the seductive, secretive femme fatale. While shoe designers and shoe historians differ as to the minimum length of a stiletto, they do agree that the height can be as much as 10 inches long (when paired with platform soles). A thin metal rod is frequently part of the design of the taller high heels. The show includes heels worn by Marilyn Monroe and Lady Gaga. Parenthetically, it is clear why 10-inch heels keep orthopedic surgeons busy.

One particular set of heels produced the most visceral and behavioral response when I was there; most gallery visitors shuddered visibly and/or repeatedly shook their heads when looking at shoes created for a 19th century Chinese woman—with each shoe less than seven inches long! Through much of the 19th century, tiny feet were a critical element of femininity and beauty in China. To make their girls more attractive—and coincidentally easier to marry off—mothers and fathers began the process of binding the child’s feet at a young age. The painful procedure, repeated daily, required breaking many or all of the bones in the child’s feet, and repositioning the big toes to below the soles of each foot.

In the space just outside the main exhibit room, the viewer is drawn into a more intimate space that oozes sexuality. The heels here—a couple in bright red adorned with silver studs—are deliberately provocative; they represent the evolution of the over-the-knee high-heeled boot from taboo fetish to functionality to high art, as exemplified by Louboutin’s “Metropolis” (image at top).

With the space-exploration age came innovative materials like strong and durable plastics, as well as carbon fiber. Heels made with these new materials explored the future of the woman’s high heel. This can be seen with Iris van Herpen’s “Beyond Wilderness” and Prada Wedge Sandal in Rosso.

For all its strengths, the exhibit at times seems like a near-final draft, and not a final project ready for public viewing. For example, the curators reiterate regularly that today’s high-heeled shoe goes back centuries. However, the exhibit feels more like an homage to heels from the mid-20th century to the present. The sheer number of heels from the 1950s on overshadow the few pre-1930 heels, and the even fewer pieces produced before. Editing out some of the later heels would have done much to strengthen their historical assertion.

The second glaring flaw is the non-presence of men’s heels. The show’s organizers assert that heels were introduced into Europe by people from what is now known as the Middle East. For these Turkish and Persian horsemen, heels were totally utilitarian; they kept a man’s feet in the stirrups. It was only years later that heels evolved into a symbol of wealth and power.  

Despite these flaws, Killer Heels stands quite tall. Check it out.

Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe is on display through Sunday, Dec. 13 at the Palm Springs Art Museum, located at 101 N. Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; and noon to 8 p.m., Thursday. Admission prices vary. For more information, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org.

It all started with a crayon crisis.

“I distinctly remember that at age 7, I had a major crisis—deciding which of two distinctly different shades of green Crayola crayons would be best for my ‘latest masterpiece,’” Laura Janes said. “And with that decision, I knew that art and painting were my future.”

Much of the painter’s career has involved art—however, it was not her art. Although she strayed from making her own art, Janes’ creative process remained part of her unconscious, she said, at times driving her career choices.

Upon graduating college, Janes became a high school teacher, where she taught teenagers about art and ways to access their own creative spirits. A few years later, Janes recognized there was a market for artists who could produce high-quality wall and ceiling murals. Capitalizing on her technical prowess as a painter, she founded Iconica, a San Diego company that was commissioned to create murals in residential properties. Working with interior designers and individual clients, Janes and her team created paintings that met a client’s needs for a defined space.

Now a muralist, the painter then evolved into an expert copyist: She was frequently asked to reproduce classic works in a client’s home. Janes chuckles: “I can’t tell you how many times I painted the Sistine Chapel on some dining room or bathroom ceiling.”

Iconica resulted in two major life lessons for Janes: First, it helped her become a savvy businesswoman. Unlike many artists, she knows how to put a fair price on each painting by factoring in a dollar value for her time and creative process, as well as her hard costs.

Second, Iconica reminded her of the importance of attending to intricate details and finishing (e.g., surface textures) with any piece. This can be seen in her “Cambria Leaves III” (upper right) which lets viewers experience the differing textures of overlapping leaf surfaces. Additionally, her use of highly amplified and contrasting colors adds a vibrancy and depth.

However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Back to Iconica: Its growing reputation among designers, developers and homeowners was resulting in ever-greater sales. However, after about 10 years, the painter found herself disengaging from the business. Something was missing. While the financial rewards proved significant, the intrinsic rewards waned: The commissions required less and less creativity and imagination.

Around the same time, Janes experienced the loss of multiple family members and important friends. Her response? “I need to ‘check out’ and find myself.”

What started as a 12-month retreat to heal and determine what to do next evolved into an 8-year sabbatical: Janes became the artist in residence for the Unitarian Church’s camp in the San Bernardino National Forest in exchange for room and board. It was a place where she could paint and reconnect with her creative persona.

During her last years at the camp, she began painting at least one watercolor a day, she said, and began implementing a strategy to connect with the design community—an industry that values her talents—and make inroads to art galleries.

Upon leaving the camp, the artist first moved to Big Bear. However, when she realized there were more gallery and interior-design opportunities here in the desert, she moved down the mountain. Today, Janes maintains an active studio in Palm Springs. The artist tries not to work on multiple canvasses concurrently; she finds herself more focused and productive when she focuses on one at a time.

With each painting, Janes tempers a recognizable spontaneity with a highly deliberative, almost cerebral, creative process. The painter’s finished canvases balance each color’s hue, saturation and brightness in one of two ways: low-contrast paintings where all colors are similar and muted; and paintings in which subtlety is non-existent: Deep, rich and highly saturated pigments define and delineate each element of the composition.

With “Aloes” (first below), Janes demonstrates how—with an almost-monochromatic palette of similar, soft colors, and hints of contrast—she can transform what would be a boring desert plant into a lush succulent. In contrast, the artist employs potentially clashing, antagonistic colors to produce “Agave Triangles” (second below), a canvas populated distinct and individual plants.

Within the past year, Janes’ works have been included in shows at D Gallery in Lake Arrowhead; Sheryl Leonard Gallery in Prescott; and Archangel Gallery and Desert Art Collection here in the Coachella Valley.

She how has two new goals: Developing a curated show of her work that will travel to different museums around the country; and getting a painting housed in at least one museum’s permanent collection.

For more information, visit www.laurajanes.com.

After years of exploring places around the globe as a flight attendant, Charlie Ciali traded in his wings for a more earthy exploration: ceramics.

He was a ceramicist who produced collectable pieces before becoming a Midwest gallery owner. Upon his arrival in the desert, Ciali reinvented himself as an abstract portraiture painter before becoming a mixed-media artist and, later, a producer of fine-art prints and paintings.

The artist goes beyond exploring the intersection and integration of painting and printmaking—art forms frequently considered distinct and different. Ciali also incorporates his expertise as a ceramicist to create a fusion of creative techniques and aesthetics. Specifically, he exploits the unique contributions of each medium to offer the viewer a heightened sense of dimensionality, varied textures and a layering of colors.

“Right now, I find myself focusing on creating monotype prints, as well as encaustic (i.e. wax-based) paintings,” he said.

Ciali, at times, also incorporates resins into his encaustics and monotypes. Resins are essentially a type of epoxy that, when buffed to a high shine or finish, reflect and refract light, producing a greater sense of depth.

“Euclid,” an encaustic on board (right), typifies the artist’s fusion of monotype printmaking, encaustic painting and ceramics. Depending upon the lighting and the angle from which it is viewed, “Euclid” offers subtle changes in color and shading. To achieve this, Ciali applies encaustic paints in shades of highly saturated yellows, oranges and blues. By painting the bottom sections of the piece in rich blues, he adds a sense of height. The encaustics contribute an additional layer of textural depth to the already present dimensionality.

“Water,” a monotype with resin on board (below), is a wide piece; the eye constantly moves from one end of the print to the other. As with many of Ciali’s monoprints, there is a strong figurative element. Here, he presents the profile of a female head in shades of yellow, gold and white. The head seems to float in front of a red backdrop. As the viewer’s eyes follow along the width of the monotype, the imagery becomes increasingly less representational—in other words, it is more suggested than defined. At the far right, opposite the profile, is an intriguing, amorphous, cloud-like shape in bright whites, accentuated by blue-green lines and light gray highlights. Between the left and right borders are suggestive images of paper with Asian-style lettering, Sumi-like painting brushes and India-inspired architectural forms; they float in the background. By applying the resin, the artist amplifies the sense of depth, making the entire composition seem dreamlike.

This past spring, Ciali was elected president of the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Artists Council. He previously served as the Artists Council’s executive vice president for fundraising, and was previously on the city’s commissions for public arts and parks and recreation.

“Currently, about 60 percent of my time is involved with arts education.” Ciali said, “In conjunction with the Palm Springs Unified School District, I created programs to teach printmaking to students from grade 3 to 12.” For several years, he has mentored students at the Arts Institute of Palm Springs High School.

Ciali maintains a fully equipped studio where he teaches printmaking and encaustic methods nearly year-round. He is often invited to other arts venues around the country to teach workshops.

“The desire to learn and express one’s creative self is more important than chronological age,” Ciali said. “In fact, I frequently find myself learning from my adult students who are not academically trained artists.”

Locally, the artist’s work is on display at Archangel Gallery, located at 1103 N. Palm Canyon Drive (760-320-4795; archangelartcollective.com/a). For more information on the artist, visit www.charlieciali.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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