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Desert Devotional: The Anza-Borrego Paintings of Jane Culp

Desert Devotional: The Anza-Borrego Paintings of Jane Culp

Editor’s note: Many people paint the desert but only a few embody the ur-qualities of the early desert artists. Jane Culp is one. She lives in an off-grid straw bale cabin perched above the Anza-Borrego desert. From this solitary outlook, she observes–and participates in–the natural forces that pulverize granite and push tectonic plates.    Her life is a veritable how-to manual for desert artists and mystics, linking her to greats like Agnes Pelton and Carl Eytel, who lived a monastic life in the rocks above today’s Palm Springs Tennis Club. We’ll have more on Culp and her upcoming exhibit–Predator Country–at…

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Collecting Arizona: How Gary Fillmore and David Picerne Tracked Down the State’s Greatest Paintings

David Picerne, a real estate developer, and Gary Fillmore, an art appraiser and owner of the Blue Coyote Gallery, went on a hunt to find the state’s very best landscape art, seeking out offerings from the Taos artists, Santa Fe railroad artists, California Impressionists and our own Smoketree Painters. Currently on view in Wickenburg (through March 4, 2018) is their comprehensive display of landscape art from around Arizona. There is plenty of overlap between the California desert and Arizona artists. To understand the Mecca Mud Hills…you have to be versed in the Superstitions, as well. Gary Fillmore knows both. He has…

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Harry and the Giants: The Geoglyph Photographs of Harry Casey

Harry and the Giants: The Geoglyph Photographs of Harry Casey

Editor’s note—One morning in the 1980s when I was working as an LA Times reporter, I hopped in an airplane with archaeologist Jay von Werlhof and pilot Harry Casey. Flying out of Brawley, we cruised low over a sandy expanse in search of the original desert art. Casey, an Imperial Valley farmer, steered us over cliffs beside the Colorado River and soon we saw below us a giant human figure with his legs cut off from view, as if he was tumbling into the river. This was my first glimpse of the massive ground drawings known as intaglios, geoglyphs or…

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Out of the Desert: Internment Camp Art Discovered in Banning

Editor’s note: Banning historian Bill Bell recently unearthed a rare trove of art inspired by exile. The hand-stitched scrapbook–poems, essays and linoleum prints–was made by high school students interned at the Poston Relocation Camp, three miles from the Arizona side of the Colorado River and north of Blythe. The internationally acclaimed sculptor Isamu Noguchi voluntarily moved to the camp in 1942 and may have helped to instruct the young artists. The scrapbook is discussed here by the man who found it.    While sorting through decades of donated items to the Banning Public Library I recently found a scrapbook from…

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Victory Ride: The Memoirs of 29 Palms Artist Chuck Caplinger

Editor’s note–Chuck Caplinger, a leader in the 29 Palms arts scene, recently published his life story. An Artist’s Journey: Memoirs of the Creative Life of Artist Chuck Caplinger follows Chuck from his childhood in Pasadena, Texas, through his tenure as a NASA artist, then on to painting custom vans and film posters in Hollywood. It culminates in the momentous Harley ride that led him to Twentynine Palms and his current incarnation as a desert and wildlife painter. In the chapter excerpted here, the artist nicknamed Cowboy is commissioned to paint a Desert Storm Victory Parade mural in 29 Palms. The…

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Radical Cartography: Obi Kaufmann and The California Field Atlas

There’s a new name in the pantheon of mapmaker artists. Joining a distinguished line-up that includes Desert magazine’s Norton Allen, Obi Kaufmann is a poet-artist-adventurer who set out to inhale the entire state of California by hiking, camping, dreaming, painting and drawing maps. His mammoth compendium, The California Field Atlas (released this month from Heyday books), combines more than 300 hand-painted maps with watercolor paintings of mountains and wildlife. Obi will be signing books at the Borrego Art Institute on September 14th, 2017. His artwork from the chapter Of Life, Death and the Desert will be on display at the gallery…

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Victor Thall: The Forgotten Abstract Expressionist of Snow Creek

Snow Creek is a village of a few dozen old fishing cabins and bohemian homesteads, encircled by wilderness and only ten minutes from Palm Canyon Drive. When I went to interview Mildred Herwood here some years ago, I noticed that her little red house claimed the choicest spot in a choice setting. Mildred was snug against the mighty face of Mt. San Jacinto. Our conversation took place long before I was writing about desert artists, so I barely took note when Mildred mentioned that she had moved here to live and study with an abstract painter who was friends with…

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The John Hilton House in 29 Palms: Artists’ Playhouse Restored

When LA resident Jamie Caffrey went looking for Twentynine Palms real estate a few years ago, he knew he wanted a pool. Driving out to view one listing, he found smashed windows, busted children’s toys and debris strewn everywhere. There was indeed a pool–once a gathering place for the desert artists–but now it was just a dark hole in the ground. Jamie had never heard of the former owner, artist John Hilton, but he says: “The house had a mystery about it. It captured my imagination.” So it happened that the Irish-born Caffrey–he formerly worked in the music and film…

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Marcia Geiger: The Secret Lives of Vintage Trailers

The Tin Goose was just an old school bus parked outside the Joshua Tree Saloon until Marcia Geiger decided to make it the subject of a painting. In Geiger’s version, the Goose looks at you head-on and unflinching. It seems to be reciting the dreams and defeats of every seeker who ever lived aboard. The piece won the Preston Ormsby Award for Excellence at the 2016 Palm Springs Artists Council Exhibit (ACE Show), and the image became an instant High Desert classic. The Nebraska-born artist has made a years-long study of the “infinite procession” of transformed buses and campers she’s…

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When Chuckwallas Dream: The Cahuilla Hills Homestead of Susan Smith Evans

Lucky is the artist who bonds with a significant place. Georgia O’Keeffe had her Abiquiu, Agnes Pelton her Mt. San Jacinto, and Susan Smith Evans–who died in an accident on March 6, 2017–her Cahuilla Hills, a rustic hideaway just outside Palm Desert. Drive three miles up Highway 74 from 111 and you’ll find a neighborhood graced with natural landscaping and remnants of 1940s jackrabbit homesteads; it feels more like Joshua Tree and the high desert than the Coachella Valley. A printmaker, painter and photographer, Susan Smith Evans taught in the College of the Desert (COD) art department for more than…

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