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I first met Debra Ann Mumm and Ryan “Motel” Campbell in the weeks leading up to the party the Coachella Valley Independent threw last October to celebrate the launch of our monthly print edition.

Debra’s Venus Studios Art Supply sponsored the event at Clinic Bar and Lounge by donating a 10-by-5-foot canvas (and other materials), on which Campbell painted a gorgeous work of art during the party. (The painting was then donated to the LGBT Community Center of the Desert for the nonprofit’s Center Stage silent auction.)

To say I was impressed by both Mumm and Campbell would be an understatement: They always display an intense passion for the Coachella Valley, its art and its artists.

That’s why I was not at all surprised when Mumm announced she and Campbell were raising funds for PLANet Art Palm Springs (www.exhibitps.com), a project to bring in four renowned muralists in early April to create four murals on and around downtown Palm Springs’ Arenas Road.

From what I know of Mumm and Campbell, I was sure they’d dot their I’s and cross their T’s when it came to planning, permits and permissions. Sure enough, they got a thumbs-up from the city’s Public Arts Commission, as well as all of the needed permissions from the property owners along Arenas Road. Since the city of Palm Springs has no law regulating murals—at least that Mumm or anyone else to whom the Independent has spoken can find—it seemed like clear sailing for PLANet Art.

Such was not the case: As the PLANET Art artists began to paint on the weekend of April 4, police showed up and reportedly threatened to arrest them if they didn’t stop.

Brian Blueskye has a comprehensive report that we posted online yesterday, and will be our May print-edition cover story. That issue will hit streets next week.

There is some good news coming out of this mess: In May, the Palm Springs City Council is slated to take up the mural matter, and will hopefully develop a policy and procedures to prevent such problems from happening in the future. (We’ll definitely keep everyone posted on what happens.)

But even if the city of Palm Springs gets its act together in May, that does not excuse the city for what happened to Mumm, Campbell and the other PLANet Art participants in April. Unless there is some law or statute that everyone is missing, the city officials who had a role in stopping PLANet Art—costing Mumm and Campbell no small amount of money—should be ashamed. If there’s no law regulating murals on the books, and Mumm and company did everything possible to get proper permission—including getting an endorsement from a city commission—then what they did is legal. Period.

People like Mumm and Campbell, who are stepping up and trying to make our community a more beautiful, culturally aware place, should be celebrated, not threatened with arrest. This seems like common sense doesn’t it? Alas, the city of Palm Springs was lacking any and all sense when it shut down PLANet Art.

Published in Editor's Note

The weekend of April 5 and 6 was going to be big for Debra Ann Mumm and local lovers of public art.

The owner of Venus Studios Art Supply had joined renowned local muralist Ryan“Motel” Campbell to launch PLANet Art Palm Springs. The project brought four renowned mural artists to downtown Palm Springs’ Arenas Road area to paint four large-scale murals.

Proper funds had been raised; the city’s Public Arts Commission had even endorsed the week long project. Everything was ready to go.

Except it wasn’t.

As the artists started to paint, the police showed up and told Mumm and Campbell that their project was not authorized—it was illegal. Police reportedly threatened arrests if the artists continued to paint.

Campbell took to Facebook and other social media to vent his frustration. He even posted a picture of the police arriving and shutting down the project.

“ART IS NOT A CRIME,” Campbell wrote.


Today, out-of-place white paint can be found along the edges of some of the walls where the murals were intended to be—Lulu California Bistro, Eddie’s Frozen Yogurt, Clinic and StreetBar—illustrating the sudden stoppage of the project.

“I wish I could explain what exactly happened,” Mumm said. “The news articles that came out about it didn’t say a lot, because there wasn’t a lot of explanation for the actions the city took. We showed up to paint, and the police came and said they were told to cite us if we began to work.

“It came as a bit of a surprise to us. We had followed all the procedures that we had to follow for the area we were painting in. There were no permits needed for that area as far as using the sidewalk and everything like that.”

However, Palm Springs City Manager David Ready told the Independent that what Mumm and Campbell had planned was not allowed—despite the endorsement of the city’s Public Arts Commission.

“Currently, the city does not allow murals,” Ready said, adding that the Public Arts Commission lacks the authority to approve mural projects on its own. “However, the City Council had asked to create a policy that would allow murals. The Arts Commission looked at it, and the Planning Commission is currently looking at it, and the City Council will consider it on May 7.”

Mumm said she’s seen no law or ordinance prohibiting murals in Palm Springs.

“There aren’t any procedures for murals in Palm Springs,” Mumm said. “Because there are no procedures, they are taking it from the standpoint that murals aren’t allowed.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened. It was very clear about the dates we were doing this and moving forward, and that there was nothing in the city language that prevented us from doing that.”

Ready also said that property owners did not have proper permits for the murals.

“They never received a permit from the city,” Ready said. “The property owners did not receive or request any approvals.”

Mumm responded that her group did everything possible to get all the proper approvals.

"We thought we only needed use permits for the sidewalks, because all of Arenas is private, and the Arts Commission approved the project."

The confusion has cost Mumm and Campbell. The project featured out-of-town artists for whom Mumm had made accommodations; it was funded, in part, by locals to bring more arts and culture into the city of Palm Springs. (Mumm and Campbell are still raising funds, by the way.)

Mumm said she hopes a fair policy will be put in place on May 7.

“At this point, we’ve created a lot of public support,” Mumm said. “It’s clear that the city needs to move forward in making a procedure, because the public is very anxious for this project to move forward. At least we’ve created that dialogue.”

One of the artists included in the project is Los Angeles painter Saber, described by The Washington Post as one of the most respected artists in the field of murals. (The others are APEX, Jeff Soto and Chad Hasegawa.) Saber went with Mumm to the Public Arts Commission meeting after the project was halted.

“(Saber) was instrumental in helping the city of Los Angeles develop their mural policy,” Mumm said. “We brought copies of the Los Angeles city mural policy to maybe try and help them develop some kind of program.”

Mumm said the plan is to continue work once the city enacts a mural policy and approves the project.

“We’re still on board,” Mumm said. “The artists came here to paint, and they still want to paint, so we’re just going to continue to move forward. It’s just an extreme delay. … At the very least, it’s created the dialogue and created the conversation, especially after the illegal mural activity.”


“Illegal mural activity” is a reference to the mural that James Haunt painted at Stewart Fine Art, 2481 N. Palm Canyon Drive, and the mural at Bar, 340 N. Palm Canyon Drive, painted by Fin DAC and Angelina Christina. There was no attempt for the creators of these murals to get city approval, according to Palm Springs city officials.

“It’s my understanding from the Public Arts Commission meeting that they’ll develop the policy, and once the policy is developed, Bar’s and James Haunt’s mural will both have to go through that procedure,” Mumm said. “They’ll make sure they’re compliant with the newly formed ordinances, and it’s clear that there will be no grandfathering of existing murals. That’s the language that I heard at the meeting. But again, the policy hasn’t been developed yet.”

Mumm said the mural issue is getting caught up in the ongoing conversation about the nature of Palm Springs—and what belongs and doesn’t belong.

“The problem with art is not everyone is going to like it,” Mumm said. “Bar has a fairly controversial mural. It’s a little bit provocative. … What we were bringing to the plate was a little more palatable publicly. I’ve heard people say about the Bar mural that it looks like a strip club. We’re trying to bring internationally recognized, quality artists and experienced muralists to the valley. I love Angelina Christina’s work, but that particular piece (at Bar) got some attention, and maybe all the neighbors aren’t happy about it. There was no public forum for them to come out and say, ‘Oh, man. You can’t do that.’ There was no approval by the Public Arts Commission, either. Everyone just wants the opportunity to weigh in on the subject.”

She also points out that murals have been great for other cities.

“It has made such a big difference for Miami,” Mumm said. “They have the Art Basel event, which draws $500 million in revenue to the Miami area in one week. I know there have been a lot of surveys done that cultural tourism is beneficial. It’s beneficial for businesses. … If you keep doing it, there’s bound to be something for everybody.”

What about people who claim that murals don’t “belong” in Palm Springs?

“I grew up here, and I was born in Indio,” Mumm said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes to Palm Springs from the time when I was a teenager. … I see extreme value in preserving our history, and there’s a lot of significant architecture here. … But the new generation, there’s not a lot to attract them or newer businesses to the area. There’s a lot of clinging to the past, and there’s a certain part of that past that’s important. I’m a big fan and have a lot of respect for what Palm Springs stands for. I think this just adds to it. We’re not taking away from anything that is Palm Springs, but adding something new and creating a new dynamic that can be more than one-dimensional for Palm Springs. It doesn’t have to be just one thing.”

“Forever Marilyn,” the Seward Johnson statue that spent about two years at the intersection of Tahquitz Canyon Way and Palm Canyon Drive, was the subject of a debate over whether or not it was tasteful—or even art.

“I wasn’t a fan,” Mumm said. “But I’m a fan of what the statue did for the community. Everybody took pictures with the Marilyn. I’m a local, and I don’t like the Marilyn statue, but I have to admit: I have pictures of her on my cell phone.”

When asked whether murals are a good fit for the city, city manager Ready wouldn’t comment specifically, but he did say the city has noticed the potential.

“I think that’s why the City Council requested that we bring forth a policy on murals,” Ready said, “because they recognize murals could certainly have a place in Palm Springs.”

Mumm said that murals are also a good source of graffiti prevention.

“We’ve been invited to bring our program to Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Indio, and even Indian Wells is even interested in looking at some murals,” Mumm said. “They realize the potential for what we’re offering. It is a graffiti deterrent.

“I know if (someone) went up and tagged on a Saber mural, (the tagger) wouldn’t last long,” she said, laughing. “There is a lot of respect even in that culture for significant work like that. You do not tag on a mural unless you’re an idiot, and your whole community around you knows you’re an idiot.”

Published in Local Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Visual Arts

It was not just another night in downtown Palm Springs.

Hundreds of people from across the Coachella Valley and beyond gathered at Clinic Bar and Lounge in downtown Palm Springs on the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 16, for the Coachella Valley Independent's Monthly-Edition Launch Party. 

The crowd was enticed by a live work of art created in front of their eyes by Ryan "Motel" Campbell; a DJ set by All Night Shoes (aka Alex Harrington), followed by several sets from The Vibe; and, of course, two hours of free drinks.

Scroll down to see some photos of the event (most of which were taken by Kevin Fitzgerald). If you have pics you'd like to add to the photo gallery, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Thanks to all who came, as well as the fine folks at Clinic Bar and Lounge, and Venus Studios Art Supply.

Published in Snapshot

Ryan “Motel” Campbell is asked how he’d categorize his art.

He pauses to contemplate. “I’d say that my work is … contemporary, fluid motion, cubist, urban, contemporary.”

He laughs. “That’s the short version,” he adds.

The description (aside from the two mentions of “contemporary,” perhaps) actually fits Campbell’s works nicely—as everyone can see at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 16, when Campbell will paint a 10-foot-by-5-foot mural live, as part of the Coachella Valley Independent’s Official Launch Party.

The Independent is celebrating our one-year anniversary online, as well as the launch of our monthly edition, with free drinks from 6 to 8 p.m.; a DJ set by All Night Shoes; and the live creation of the mural on canvas, which will later be donated to the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, for the organization’s silent auction at the Center Stage event.

Campbell, 32, is an accomplished artist whose works and installations have been featured in galleries far and wide. (See just a small sampling of his works at www.ryanmotelcampbell.com/index.html.)

Ryan “Motel” Campbell—the nickname came to be, he says, because friends used to regularly stay at his house, aka the “Motel Campbell”—teaches regularly at Venus Studios, which is co-sponsoring the launch party; the good folks there are donating the canvas on which Campbell will paint, as well as other materials.

He says he often came to the desert while he was growing up in Los Angeles, and he credits the Coachella Valley for giving him inspiration.

“I really love the desert—something about the energy, something about just being here, I connected with immediately,” he says. “I would come here from Los Angeles and feel just completely disconnected, which is great.”

As a kid in L.A., Campbell fell in love with graffiti.

“I went and wrote on every mailbox and every sidewalk, and I’m not proud of it,” he says. “… I knew better. I had a very nice upbringing. My family taught me to always be respectful. But I needed to have my voice heard.”

In 2001, he decided to move to the Coachella Valley; his mom already lived in here, in Palm Desert.

“I had the opportunity to move here and jumped all over it,” he says. “I moved here—and found myself totally bored out of my mind.

“Oddly enough, in the bag of things that I brought with me—my worldly possessions—I had my sketchbook. So I broke out my sketchbook, and I just started drawing. I started looking at a lot of the graffiti I was doing and saw the monotony in it. I saw that I wasn’t really progressing. … I felt like I needed to push myself.”

Campbell started visiting local museums and galleries; those visits led to what he called a “wave of inspiration.”

“I said, ‘You know, I want to do something different. I want to try to really take the fundamentals of this graffiti art … and put it into creating something that’s more fine art’—art that spoke to me, that I was able to connect with and identify with and really enjoy.”

The melding of influences has led to Campbell’s “contemporary, fluid motion, cubist, urban, contemporary” style.

“It’s very inspired,” Campbell says about his art. “It’s inspired by movement. It’s inspired by motion, a lot of fluidity. I think that depicted where I was and where I am in life. I like to cruise through. I don’t want to fight too much.”

Today, in a way, Campbell has come full-circle: He often teaches alternative-education classes to kids with whom he can closely relate.

“I was basically going in to teach (kids who were just like) myself when I was in high school,” he says. “I was going in to teach kids who were rebellious and angry and wanted to do vandalism and go out and make a name for themselves.”

He says some kids even recognized him and his works from his graffiti days.

“The question (from the kids) was always like, ‘How come you don’t go out any more?’ he says. “For me, the necessity and the outlet have changed over time.”

Today, he says, kids have more outlets than he did when he was young. He cites skate parks as an example, as well as some of the efforts that forward-thinking arts organizations like Venus Studios are making.

“Kids want to go out and paint. They want to go out and write their name,” he says. “They want people to go out and see the work that they’re making. What I’ve been able to do with Venus Studios is we have Spray Paint Session Saturdays, where we invite people to come in and bring their spray paint. We give them a large-size canvas to paint on, to display their work in a venue where they’re not harming anybody, and they’re not getting into any trouble. They have an audience that’s interested in what they have to say, in a place where they can show their work.”

When asked what attendees at the Independent Launch Party can expect while Campbell spends four to six hours creating a brand-new work of art, he says that he often draws inspiration from the audience when he produces live works.

So come and help create Campbell create a contemporary, fluid-motion, cubist, urban, contemporary piece of art—for a good cause to boot.

Ryan “Motel” Campbell will paint starting at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the Coachella Valley Independent’s Official Launch Party. The event takes place at Clinic Bar and Lounge, 188 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. A hosted bar will be open from 6 to 8 p.m., and All Night Shoes will spin music all night. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-904-4208. Below: “Reclining Nude” (from life study), 48 by 36 inches; acrylic, spray paint and charcoal on wood. Above: “Sorting It All Out,” 24 by 24 inches; acrylic, spray paint and charcoal on wood.

Published in Visual Arts