Galleries

Francis Di Fronzo’s Desert of Memory

I think of El Paseo art galleries as places people go to decorate the walls of their luxury homes. Having no luxury home (maybe my Dinah Shore-style pad was luxurious when it was first built 50 years ago), I rarely walk this gallery-rich stretch of Palm Desert. However, I escorted out-of-town visitors there recently and was arrested by a painting of a train in the empty desert. I am enamored of trains these days because of my friend Carl Bray, the artist and railroadman, who died recently. But there was something about this particular train on a wall of the…

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Ginger Renner: Mother-Muse of Desert Painters

Ginger Renner: Mother-Muse of Desert Painters

For R. Brownell McGrew’s first ever one-man show in 1967, Ginger Renner packed nearly 1000 guests into her Desert Southwest Art Gallery in Palm Desert. The crowd spilled onto the then-deserted Highway 111, high on art and the owner’s infamous Fish House Punch. “You mix a goodly amount of fresh squeezed lime juice, Chablis, syrup and a pint of cheap brandy,” Renner explained. “You let that mellow and pour it quart for quart with champagne. It sure sold a lot of artwork.” Renner, who died on March 27, 2011 at age 89, was a PTA mom from Riverside who transformed…

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Glenda Nordmeyer: Stone Diaries

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Since founding this website I can now attest: The world is not really going to Twitter. People are still going deeper and deeper into the land, abandoning their glowing screens to seek beauty. The ranks of contemporary desert painters are replete with people who value great light over a killer app any day. I was reminded of this fact again recently when a Palm Desert acquaintance, Eric Vogt, told me about an old friend of his, Glenda Nordmeyer. If you like desert painting you’ve got to see her work, he said. From Palm Springs I drove east on 1-10 to…

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Smoketree Trio: New Books on Desert Artists

Scholarship on The Smoketree School made big strides in the spring of 2011  with the release of three new books covering unexplored corners of desert art. California Art Club California Light: A Century of Landscapes is the long-anticipated history of the California Art Club, the venerable group that has fostered so many artists over the years. The release coincides with the hundred-year anniversary of the club. The text is by Molly Siple and Jean Stern, executive director of the Irvine Museum, with a chronology provided by club historian Eric Merrell, a dedicated painter of deserts—among other subjects—and known for his…

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Marjorie’s View: Bringing Borrego Painters Home

When Barbara Nickerson put an ad in the Borrego Sun looking for early Borrego desert paintings, she wound up filling in missing pieces of California art history. The Executive Director of the Borrego Art Institute, Nickerson appealed to local collectors who may have paintings of the area in their homes. Right away, the calls came in. “We are in the midst of a happening!” Nickerson reported soon after her notice appeared. “We’ve got three nice Bartkos, four or more Marjorie Reeds, one large Ivan Messenger…” The result: A solid first-ever exhibit of historic Borrego art displayed in downtown Borrego Springs…

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Tony Foster: Icebergs and Ocotillo

Tony Foster lives in Cornwall, England, surrounded by the sea, and breaks for tea every two hours when he’s out painting. Can this man truly be called a desert artist? A Smoketree painter he is, for our purposes. Not only because he has painted Mt. San Jacinto from atop the Joshua Tree hills, but because he lives by the rules that governed the early desert painters: –Go on foot. –When you get there stay awhile. When I first saw a book of Tony Foster’s enormous watercolors (Painting At the Edge of the World) at a gallery in Santa Fe I…

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Penelope Krebs: From LA Hard-Edge to Ornithological Art

To be an abstract artist in LA in the 1980s was the next best thing to being lead singer in a punk band. You lived in a downtown LA loft and partied with celebrities.  Hard-edge artist Penelope Krebs enjoyed the perks of the scene for nearly 20 years until the death of her husband, fellow artist William Dwyer, in 2004. Then Krebs stopped painting her huge geometric canvases. The magic of all those lines and colors–the magic of the parties–was gone for her. Someone told her there were artists living near Joshua Tree National Park and she thought maybe she…

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Cady Wells and the Desert Modern

I’m no longer surprised when I hear about a hot Southwestern artist and then find he or she had ties to the Coachella Valley. In fact, I’ve come to expect those connections. The newest discovery is Henry Cady Wells, a modernist Santa Fe artist who lived in Palm Springs at one time. Georgia O’Keeffe once remarked that she and her friend Wells were the two best artists from their region. And while Wells has been relatively obscure till now, his day has come largely due to the efforts of Lois P. Rudnick, editor of a satisfying new book from the…

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Plein Air Painting in the Desert

Plein Air Painting in the Desert

California is a vast and picturesque region with a great variety of landscape.  From the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the dazzling beaches and coves of the coast; from the flower-covered hills and secluded tree-lined valleys to the isolated splendor of the Mojave Desert; all these vistas were ideal subjects for the landscape painters who came to California over a hundred years ago.  The enthralling beauty of California is the principal reason that, from the last part of the 19th century to the early decades of the 20th century, California art was characterized by a large number…

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Eric Merrell: Bringing the California Desert to NYC

Most Manhattan gallery-goers don’t know the names Jimmy Swinnerton or John Hilton; they can’t tell a smoketree from a cholla. While desert art is expanding its geographic appeal, it hasn’t reached the east coast yet. That transcontinental link may finally be forged, though, with Eric Merrell’s show “No Man is an Island”, opening July 14th at the Forbes Gallery in the lobby of Forbes Magazine headquarters in New York City. The exhibit is a collection of Merrell’s paintings made during an artist’s residency at Joshua Tree National Park in 2009. Will east coast viewers take to the yuccas and boulders?…

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