If the Mojave Desert is an oasis of natural and stubborn quietude set next to the traffic and the hubbub of Los Angeles, it is an oasis that also contains oases – a sort of Russian doll of harbors set within harbors.
Artist Edwin Vasquez sees this desert ethos and puts it into action too, as he is known to pick up hikers in Tehachapi and help them reach their next stop on the Pacific Crest Trail. Vasquez becomes, in a way, an oasis of humanity for the intrepid hiker who has been alone in the hills among the calls of ravens and the buzzing bees.
Stepping down into the desert, they might see some of what Vasquez sees and celebrates in the Antelope Valley environs.
Celebrating the Desert is a series of posts here at AV Arts dedicated to showcasing Mojave Desert-inspired work by local artists. Today’s post features the work of ever-active Antelope Valley artist Edwin Vasquez, who has been featured on the pages of AV Arts before.
From Edwin Vasquez:
The first photograph is from Apollo Park, near the General William J. Fox Airfield. It is an amazing community park. This is one of the three man-made lakes for fishing and boating. It is like an oasis in the middle of our desert.
The second photograph is in the Piute Ponds, a group of ponds about 10 kilometers southeast of Rosamond. This large marsh is an important stop for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway.
Thank you to the artists who to the artists who have participated in our humble initiative to celebrate our landscape with art.
What is going on in the Antelope Valley? Hey, thanks for asking.
As it happens, there is a good bit going on. If you are looking for some sites to see in the AV, check out the art scene.
The MOAH is currently featuring a show called, “British Invasion.” Among the two dozen artists included in the show is David Hockney, “one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century” (MOAH). The work ranges in medium and in style as the show intends to both reference and update the 1960s musical and cultural British Invasion. Fittingly, these artists are showing work inspired by American culture, just as the American blues spurred the inspirations and innovations of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
MOAH is excited to feature the work of several of the artists who participated in the original British Invasion of the sixties as well as a diverse group of up-and-coming and recently established Britons, whose California-inspired body of work could be said to comprise a contemporary British Invasion.
The current exhibit is part of a larger, ongoing project that promises to fascinate desert and city dwellers alike.
From The Mojave Project:
The Mojave Project is a transmedia documentary and curatorial project led by Kim Stringfellow exploring the physical, geological and cultural landscape of the Mojave Desert. The Mojave Project reconsiders and establishes multiple ways in which to interpret this unique and complex landscape, through association and connection of seemingly unrelated sites, themes, and subjects thus creating a speculative and immersive experience for its audience.
The scope of the conversation represented by the Mojave Project is admirable, especially in a climate wherein flashy news trumps deeper discourse and distraction is king. The artists working with Kim Stringfellow on this project are going against the grain of the instantaneous and developing a substantial and sustained artistic dialogue on what the desert is, what it means, and what it kinds of ideas it contains.
Looking for more inspiration?
The city of Palmdale is hosting “Inspired by Nature” – Art by Chuck Tedeschi. The exhibit beings with an opening reception on January 26 and will be on display through March 12 at the Palmdale Playhouse.
Information on Tedeschi is hard to come by, but his work seems to speak for itself. The artist will be present at the opening reception so you can ask him how in the world he is doing what he does…
For an outsider’s take on how the intersections between the arts, the desert’s open spaces and the Antelope Valley, check out this article from Curbed LA by Jennifer Swan.
Swan still has a 661 area code, according to her bio, so she is not the outsider here, not exactly. But she portrays an interesting image of the Lancaster, Palmdale, Mojave area – seen through the eyes of Venice Beach folks as a place simultaneously full of potential and kind of down-at-the-heels.
Giving a good amount of space in the article to local figures like Robert Benitez (a director of/at MOAH) and Larissa Nickel (artist, advocate, writer and professor), Swan ultimately poses a sort of bizarre question about whether or not the art scene is about to be gentrified here where the population has surpassed 500,000 and the average annual income is just slightly under the California state median income of $60,000.
Presuming Swan is clear on what gentrification means, she poses a strange and intriguing question that seems fitting for a region on the outskirts of Los Angeles, a city of big dreams, big incomes and also little dreams and little incomes. If there is a “culture creep” spreading from Los Angeles, what exactly does that culture consist of? And what does it mean if that culture – however vibrant, however exploratory, however chic – shows up on the outskirts of town?
The desert of the Antelope Valley certainly has wide open spaces and unoccupied territory, but if people occupy the scrub-brush and the dry-washes does that mean Palmdale has been gentrified? In Brooklyn, people didn’t gentrify the alleys and the warehouses…they bought the brownstones, right?
The Antelope Valley is often a projection, for Angelenos, of their own fantasies and biases and Swan would appear to ask what projection might win out: Will it be one that invites notions of a creatively inspiring blank slate and uses this invitation as a call to take ownership of the region’s arts mantle or one that sees the Antelope Valley as place with an identity of its own, defined by the people and artists who already live here?
The answer may clarify the fact that the ideas behind “desert gentrification” are anchored to psychology and class-consciousness as much as or more so than they are to actual class. Ultimately, Swan’s article examines the battle of ideas and identity that persistently crops up in and around the Antelope Valley. Take a look if you have a chance. It’s a really interesting read.
Jeremy Johnson’s paintings express an energy born of a hard-earned clarity of purpose. Surviving a brain tumor, Johnson values his choices more than many people can – and he chooses to pursue art and creativity.
Jeremy Johnson and I collaborated on an online arts project a few years back and since then I’ve watched his audience grow on social media and seen his name on more than a few show announcements, from Southern California to Chicago . (I also happen to have one of his paintings hanging in my house.)
An Interview with Artist Jeremy Johnson – Painting with Subtle Sophistication
One of the things I like most about Johnson’s art is his emphasis on subtle sophistication. Many of his compositions use color in an abstract style to successfully create emotive statements that are hard to reduce or simplify, but which resonate and draw you in.
A sensibility comes through in his non-representational painting, which is really saying something when it comes to abstract work. But just take a look at Johnson’s deceptively designed paintings (deceptive because they seem simple at first but are actually layered and thorough) and you see a distinct aesthetic at work. His paintings may be abstract, but they are not at all accidental.
Creating an online store, doing commissioned work and branching out with his art in new directions, the last few years have seen Johnson taking on new challenges and forging ahead.
After seeing some pictures from Jeremy Johnson’s recent show at Millennium Park Art Gallery in Chicago , I caught up with the artist and asked him a few questions about his painting, his inspirations, and the new directions he is taking with his art.
Eric: Is there a central idea behind your art? A message, a goal, or a specific inspiration that you are articulating with each piece of art you make?
Jeremy Johnson: No I don’t usually start a painting with a goal other than for it to move me. That’s how I know I’m finished – when it sends a surge of emotions through my body then I know I’ve reached my goal.
Eric: Some of your new paintings are using iconography and cultural icons but seem to be outgrowths of the style of color compositions you’ve developed. What made you choose to start doing representational paintings?
Jeremy Johnson: I chose to paint representational work to show people I have a wide range of styles. Representational comes easier to me than abstract. Though after my surgery, I have muscle twitches that make representational more complicated for me.
Abstract art is something I believe happened only after my brain surgery. It triggered the emotional part of my brain to think with colors and create things I’d never imagined.
Eric: Can you name a few artists whose work has inspired you? Famous artists or up-and-coming artists you admire or follow?
Eric: You recently hinted to me that you are looking to move into a new direction with your art and possibly work in a different medium. What do you have in mind?
Jeremy Johnson: I’ve never wanted to settle on one style or type of media.
I would like to expand into all types of media including photography and metal art, furniture making and whatever I can do to expand and continue to test my skills.
Eric: I’ve seen pictures of paintings you’ve done of sports logos for fans of the Blackhawks, the Bears, the Broncos and other teams. I’m sure these pieces really sell, which is great for any artist. Do they also give you any ideas for new work or any insights into what turns a viewer into a buyer?
Jeremy Johnson: I want to be able to paint a wide variety of art to accommodate a variety of tastes.
So…painting logos…they do sell and help me with my practice on detail. But I prefer to attack a piece without any planning – let it speak to me and become something from nothing.