Galleries

Four Days, Fifteen Artists, Death Valley

Four Days, Fifteen Artists, Death Valley

In March, 2012, after 40 years of enjoying visits and painting Death Valley, I brought in reinforcements in the form of eight artist friends to help me capture the beauty of this magical place. The paint-out led me to publish Painting Death Valley to inspire other artists to take up the challenge. The outcome was so rewarding that a return in March 2013 was virtually a no-brainer. I returned this time with 12 friends and two photographers to document the event. The new book, Painting in Death Valley Again (excerpts below) complements the first and is largely about the artists…

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Stephen Willard’s Mammoth Lakes Gallery Reopening

Portland art dealers Robert and Sue Joki were looking for an encore career to crown 25 years of success in the gallery business. They found their opening courtesy of the early Palm Springs photographer Stephen Willard. In May, 2013, the couple will reopen Willard’s Mammoth Lakes cabin and studio as a center for Sierra and Yosemite art. While Mammoth is not exactly smoke tree territory, the new Gallery at Twin Lakes is great news for followers of desert art. In California, the desert artists overlap with mountain artists, just as the mountains and deserts themselves overlap. Follow a desert artist…

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The Desert Art Dynasty of John and Kathi Hilton

The Desert Art Dynasty of John and Kathi Hilton

The painter Kathi Hilton Garvin, art dealer Dan Rohlfing and I had just finished dinner at the 29 Palms Inn. The sky was turning pink then blue, like a Technicolor Hilton painting, when Dan suggested that we try to find John Hilton’s old 29 Palms homestead, playhouse to movie stars and desert artists. As we crammed into my Subaru, I wasn’t so sure about this plan. It was getting dark and no one really knew where we were going except that it was out in nowhere. Dan, co-owner of Bodega Bay Heritage Gallery on the Sonoma coast, had never been…

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Val Samuelson: The Bulldozing Modernist of Cat City

I arrived at an estate sale in the Cathedral City cove not long ago to find what looked like a line of leaf-cutter ants carrying away oversized objects. People balanced huge picture frames on their shoulders, floated them along like sails and strapped them to car roofs. The leaf-litter was the accumulated life’s work of artist Val Samuelson, a Cove dweller for 37 years. Today, not long after that inglorious event, Samuelson’s reputation is on the rise as the Cathedral City Public Arts Commission has launched an exhibit devoted to the longtime resident who died in 2000. Known for his…

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James Toenjes: Painting the Cahuilla Landscape

I first knew Jim Toenjes as an archaeologist who works closely with the eminent Cahuilla scholar Lowell Bean. One day I happened to glance in Jim’s car trunk and realized with a start he is an archaeologist who also has a trunk full of paintings. It took even longer before I understood the extent of it: This archaeologist is in fact one of the great unrecognized landscape painters of the Coachella Valley. My slow dawning is typical for those who meet Jim. Born in Nebraska in 1951, he’s a red-haired, loose-limbed modest soul–the kind of fellow who makes gingerbread when…

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Ron Backer: Bringing Americana to a Stronghold of Modernism

Join me in saying Thanks to the state of South Dakota for sending Ronald Backer our way. It’s as if the Great Plains groomed this artist just for us–salting him with treks to Spirit Mound and seasoning him with the lore of Deadwood. They wrapped him in tradition and delivered him to Palm Desert with the specific task of bringing Americana to the Coachella Valley. The poor man doesn’t know what he’s up against. With metal sculptures in the medians, Chihuily glass anemones in the galleries and Donald Judd’s minimalist bunkers occupying the new museum—it’s clear that the modern rules…

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Jimmy Swinnerton and Bill Bender in Monument Valley

Ed. Note: Gary Fillmore’s’ new book Shadows on the Mesa explores the interactions of artists who visited the Wetherill-Colville Guest Ranch in Arizona in the early 1900s. Among them are painters who also worked in the Coachella Valley: Clyde Forsythe, Carl Eytel, Ferdinand Burgdorff, Maynard Dixon, Guy Rose and others. Many artists made regular pilgrimages from the California desert to the Arizona Navajo lands. In this excerpt, Gary Fillmore looks at two such pilgrims: Jimmy Swinnerton and Bill Bender. James Swinnerton spent every year from 1906 until the late 1950s in much the same fashion. In 1938 his fifth wife,…

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Patricia Schaefer: Modern Desert Soul

My new culture heroes are painters who defy the art school injunction against old-fashioned landscape painting and simply walk outside with a paintbrush.  You can meet one such rebel, Patricia Schaefer, tonight (Friday, April 27, 2012) at the opening of her exhibit at Korakia Pensione in Palm Springs. Schaefer was previously known for her scenes of lawnmowers, motel pools and other modernist symbols of urban discontent. But hanging around the desert and hiking its trails made her want to sample an older way. When she first wandered out to try plein air painting she faced a considerable frustration curve. Her…

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Street Art Meets Desert Art

In desert art circles, the name Kevin Stewart equals respectability. The art appraiser and dealer is known for his impeccably pressed pinstripe shirts and his encyclopedic knowledge of desert art. You could take the man anywhere. So what was he doing out in front of his Palm Springs gallery on Friday, with hip-hop music blaring, urban youth milling about, and a long-haired young man on a ladder spray-painting a woman’s face on the side of his building? In a clattering collision of universes, Kevin Stewart–the dean of desert art dealers—has just become the father of Palm Springs Street Art. A…

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Terry Masters’ Beautiful Planet

It was 2010, in Terry Masters’ painting class at Palm Springs’ Desert Art Center. Terry walked to the front of the room and hoisted a large canvas onto an easel. He flipped open his portable plein air kit (battle-scarred from hundreds of painting encounters). Terry is no shrinking violet. At 6′ 5″, he is a Tower of Power.  He grabbed a brush (with a very long handle) and began to paint. Not in a placid, controlled, way. He literally attacked the canvas. Watching him was eye-opening: a plein air action painter. Slash! Splash! In Terry parlance it’s “Stab and Drag”: Hit…

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