Barbara Gothard: Surrealism and the Desert of Dreams

When I heard there was a surrealist living off of South Palm Canyon Drive, near my favorite Indian Canyons haunts, I felt like a botanist who’d discovered a rare desert lily. In Palm Springs we have installation artists, landscape painters, post-modernists and tiki artists–but surrealists? Those are from Paris and New York. Well, not all of them. There were some noted surrealists inspired by the California desert, including Dorr Bothwell–who lived in Joshua Tree in the 1960s–and Helen Lundeberg, who spent time in Palm Springs and Death Valley. I’d always admired these bold painters and never thought I’d encounter their…

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Vaughan Davies: New Light on Tahquitz

I would have told you I know Tahquitz Canyon well. I’ve studied the jagged mouth from my backyard for 21 years. I’ve watched the shadow of the witch glide across the canyon in the mornings and have even trekked to the third waterfall to visit a former hermit-in-residence. So I thought I knew this place–as emblematic of Palm Springs as Ayers Rock is of Australia. But then I saw a Tahquitz painting by Vaughan Davies. Here was a tilted slab rearing up as if about to speak. A spiky monolith, slightly foreboding. This was a Tahquitz new to me. In…

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Funeral in the Rocks: A Tale of Cathedral City’s Early Artists

In honor of Cathedral City’s 35th anniversary celebration (November, 2016) we’re featuring vintage photos of the town, on display through December 18th at the City Hall Art Gallery. Accompanying the images is an excerpt from Painted Rocks by Josephine Morse True. This hard-to-find memoir depicts the village and the artists, as they were in 1935 when True lived there. Of all the Coachella Valley cities, Cathedral City claims the most beguiling art story: an early band of free spirits gathered around the artist Agnes Pelton and the teachings of Theosophy. Instead of remaining aloof from their neighbors (as bohemians tend…

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The Hidden World of R. Lee Miller and the Araby Rock Houses

If you walk the levee behind the Palm Springs PetCo and look toward the mountain you’ll see them, but barely: four little rock houses. It looks like boulders tumbled down the hillside and assembled themselves into a hamlet out of a children’s story. Aside from one new roof–suggesting occupancy–you’d think the  structures were vacant and about to be bulldozed to make way for luxury homes. I’d puzzled over the hamlet many times over the years. Then I puzzled some more when I heard that Christina Lillian, the glamorous arts patron and friend of Agnes Pelton, had once owned them and…

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Desert Romantic: The Newly Discovered Letters of Paul Grimm

From the 1930s through the 1970s, Paul Grimm’s paintings broadcast a sublime vision of the Palm Springs landscape to tourists from around the world. Yet for all of his importance to desert art, I’ve never known more about him than the standard mini-bio: He painted movie backdrops, ran a gallery downtown, loved his fox terrier named Cholla. Because he left few personal records and had no offspring to tell his story, it seemed we’d never know more. Grimm would forever remain an encyclopedia entry. That changed recently when Harbor City resident Ann Tompkins sent her grandson into her attic to…

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