CVIndependent

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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

William Bryan Rooney

The Backstreet Art District, tucked away against the mountains off East Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, may be hard to find, but once you make the discovery, you will encounter a diverse collection of galleries where you can meet artists, wander through working studios—and possibly find that perfect piece of art.

The various galleries on Cherokee Way have their own hours and showing times, but they all come together to hold an Art Walk on the first Wednesday of every month, from 6 to 9 p.m., bringing together artists, gallery owners and prospective patrons.

Kelly Truscott, from Artize Gallery, explained how this collective got started.

“Backstreet was born by accident in the year 2000, when three artists had left their door unlocked one day, which resulted in people coming into their space,” she said. After meeting the artists and getting the backstory behind the art, these intruders bought some pieces. This chance occurrence launched the location as an art district—a place where a diverse collection of art and artists can be found off the beaten path. The available spaces are leased only as artists’ work spaces and galleries. If a gallery or art business leaves, another art gallery will take its place.

Annette Marie, a painter and jewelry designer at Studio 13, has been at Backstreet for 11 years. “There is constant change here rather than growth,” she said. “It started out and remains an intimate group of artists.”

Melanie Brenner is a gallerist at the newest member of Backstreet, Rebel Art Space. She emphasizes the diversity and evolution that is at the heart of the district.

“The art changes here every month,” she said. “We’re not curators; we are here to sell art.”

Rebel Art Space is a collaboration between Brenner and two friends who share a Southern heritage and a desire for emerging artists to be exposed to the “burgeoning art world of the Coachella Valley.”

At the Tom Ross Gallery, you’ll find works by the artist known as Rosenberg, who moved to Palm Springs in September 2016 after 25 years in Santa Fe, N.M. Rosenberg works with large-scale paintings on clear acrylic panels, using a process known as reverse painting.

“With this technique, there is always an element of surprise,” said Rosenberg, aka Tom Ross. The work is a visual adventure, often surprising the artist himself with the direction of the final piece.

Fusion Art was started by award-winning artist Chris Hoffman to “promote and connect emerging and established artists with collectors and art enthusiasts.” Originally started as an online gallery, it opened as a physical gallery at the Backstreet Art District in May 2016. “We are fully committed to exposing new artists to Palm Springs on a regular basis,” he said. “We’ll be here doing this every first Wednesday—even in July and August”.

Other worthy galleries include the David A. Clark Studio, featuring a namesake who teaches encaustic printmaking across the United States and in Europe; and Maxson Art Studio and Gallery, featuring the paintings and ceramic art of Palm Desert artist Linda Maxson.

One notable thing about the Backstreet Art District is the wide range of prices—including a lot of great, affordable, original art. Many galleries connect the artist to the buyer in a way that is both personal and immediate.

The Backstreet Art District is located on Cherokee Way behind the Mercedes Benz dealership. The city has even provided a directional road sign now, so there is no longer an excuse not to stop by and open an unlocked door.

The next Backstreet Art District Art Walk will take place from 6 to 9 p.m., Wednesday, June 7. For more information, visit www.backstreetartdistrict.com.

Whenever a family of artists works collectively, it’s natural to both be intrigued by individual works, and curious about the sum of their creative endeavors. When the family’s works are gathered together in one place, the art can be put into perspective—even if that perspective is shaped by one’s personal taste in art.

If you find yourself at the end of an El Paseo shopping spree or dining adventure, it would be well worth your while to wander into Heather James Fine Art to visit the intriguing exhibit Art of the Wyeth Family, which will be on display through June.

The exhibit features artwork by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) and his many talented family members and descendants, spanning three generations. Included are works by N.C. Wyeth’s children Henriette, Carolyn, Ann and Andrew (a National Medal of Arts winner who, in 2011-2012, was the subject of a retrospective at the Palm Springs Art Museum). Also included are works by son-in-law John McCoy; grandchildren Jamie Wyeth and Maude Robin McCoy; and grandniece Anna B. McCoy—all celebrated American painters on their own. It may be worth taking your family and pointing out what a family can do when they work together—but again, that is a matter of taste.

The family story includes the insistence by patriarch N.C. Wyeth that his children learn the traditional aspects of creating, while emphasizing the importance of observing the natural world and expressing their place in it. The Wyeth family’s roots are on the East Coast, mostly in Maine and Pennsylvania, and naturalistic representations of the landscape, wildlife and area inhabitants are prevalent and were passed down through the generations. There is a century of time between the earliest painting in this exhibition and the artists who are still at work today.

Gallery consultant Hayden Hunt said N.C. Wyeth’s work is similar in style to that of Norman Rockwell.

“This exhibit is unique to the Coachella Valley in that it is different from the Western influences normally represented,” he said. “The art included is a unique look at the character who guided his family into the world of painting.”

N.C. Wyeth is known mostly for his illustrations for novels (Treasure Island, The Last of the Mohicans, Robinson Crusoe) and magazine covers (The Saturday Evening Post), but he also created posters, calendars and advertisements for clients such as Lucky Strike, Cream of Wheat and Coca-Cola. He painted murals for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the First National Bank of Boston and other buildings, both public and private.

Later in life, he insisted that he was “trapped” by the commercial work, and never attained the personal satisfaction or public recognition that he sought for his art. Therefore, it was up to his family to carry on and create the legacy that is now on display. He fostered “friendly competition” between his children, and brought in his daughter’s suitor, John McCoy, to raise the stakes.

Notable works in Art of the Wyeth Family include “Once the Girl Started Through the Yard as Though She Would Rush After Them and Stopped at the Gate” by N.C. Wyeth; it’s a work of subtle simplicity with a complex title. The portrait “Anna B.” by Henriette Wyeth and the stark “Red Tail Hawk” by Jamie Wyeth also draw one’s attention.

Art of the Wyeth Family is on display through June at Heather James Fine Art, 45188 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 760-346-8926, or visit www.heatherjames.com.

You are in an art gallery, taking in all the intricacies of a certain painting, when you overhear someone say: “My 4-year old could do that.”

It’s that kind of broad-stroke dismissal that many women painters in the 1940s and 1950s experienced in the art world.

Although many women had thriving art careers at that time, they were never taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Today, the exhibition Women of Abstract Expressionism, at the Palm Springs Art Museum through May 28, shows just how influential the works of these artists was and is.

The exhibit contains more than 50 major paintings by 12 artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 20th century, an era recognized as the first fully American modern-art movement. Curated by Gwen Chanzit of the Denver Art Museum, it’s the only exhibition to present works by these artists together.

Chanzit told artnet News, “Except for a very small number of scholars who have spent their lives working in this field, there will be people you haven’t heard of (in this exhibit).”

In preparation for the exhibition, Chanzit looked at the work of more than 100 women, about 40 of whom she says would have been a good fit for the final show. “This is not about pushing a feminist agenda; it’s about taking another look,” Chanzit added.

Artists included in this exhibit are from opposite sides of the spectrum—the New York and San Francisco art scenes. They were all expressing the struggle between self-expression and the unconscious in their work, and were inspired by personal experience, expressed despite the exclusion they faced.

Mary Lee Abbott, a direct ancestor of John Adams, formed a friendship with Willem de Kooning, who was a major influence in her artistic development. She later joined the infamous “Downtown Group,” founded by a group of artists who lived in lower Manhattan.

Jay DeFeo dealt with abstract expressionism, surrealism and spirituality and became a pivotal figure in the historic San Francisco community of artists, poets and jazz musicians.

Elaine de Kooning, an editorial associate for Art News magazine and wife of Willem de Kooning, signed her artworks with her initials instead of her full name to avoid her paintings being labeled as “feminine” or having them confused with her husband’s work.

Perle Fine was one of the few female painters invited to join the 8th Street Artists’ Club by Willem de Kooning (yes, there is a pattern here) and later in her career specialized in bas-relief paintings and grids.

Helen Frankenthaler was inspired by the works of Jackson Pollock and then developed her own revolutionary technique of stain painting. She is also known for introducing a newer generation to a form of abstract painting that came to be known as Color Field.

Sonia Gechtoff is a social realist painter who credits her early success to other female artists her mother managed in San Francisco art galleries.

Judith Godwin was inspired by the modern dance movement, expressed by her broad, corporeal gestures, arcs and angles in her work.

Grace Hartigan, a close friend of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, is known for a series of gestural abstractions. When once asked if a male artist ever told her she painted like a man, Hartigan replied, “Not twice.”

Lee Krasner worked with the Public Works of Art Project and in the mural division of the Federal Art Project/Works Progress Administration during the mid-1930s. She was married to Jackson Pollock and is one of the few female artists to have had a retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “I’m always going to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock—that’s a matter of fact—but I painted before Pollock, during Pollock, after Pollock,” she said.

Joan Mitchell, a member of the “second generation” of American abstract expressionists, formed friendships with poet Frank O’Hara and Grace Hartigan and referred to her own work as “very violent and angry.”

Deborah Remington belonged to the Beat scene in San Francisco and was the only female founder of the Six Gallery, where Allen Ginsberg first read his incendiary Howl in public.

Ethel Schwabacher’s paintings were influenced by psychoanalysis and Freudian theory, and reveal the influence of Gorky and Surrealism in her work.

This exhibit displays the influences of this movement, from Tolstoy (Gechtoff), to Rimbaud (Krasner) to modern-dance innovator Martha Graham (Goodwin). “The King Is Dead” by Hartigan is about Pablo Picasso and strives to make a larger point. The works by Helen Frankenthaler range from showing the influence of Pollock to her own breakthrough in Western Style in her later works.

Krasner’s “Cornucopia” was inspired by nature and expressed by the arabesques that come from the physical movement of her whole arm, not just the hands and wrist. Jay Defeo’s “Incision” contains waves of oil paint that feel as if one could climb onto the composition—as if it were a force of nature. Remington’s “Apropos” displays bold areas of scarlet intertwined with serpentine areas of green and black.

Walking around these paintings, ranging from the large canvases to smaller scale statements, is like walking through a garden in a dreamscape. Do not miss this show.

Women of Abstract Expressionism is on display through Sunday, May 28, at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday through Tuesday; and noon to 9 p.m., Thursday and Friday. Admission is $12.50, with discounts and various free days. For more information, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org.