Driving north on Highway 86 one sunny fall afternoon, I almost crashed when I came across the sight of beautiful ladies and snakes hugging the walls of a market in Desert Shores.
“Shesha Sand Storm,” the mural that so surprised me, is a show-stopper. It’s monochrome, dramatic, loud and obviously the work of someone skilled and talented. It offers an urban contrast to the desert skies, yet somehow suits the backdrop of the market and surrounding area.
As it turns out, not one, but two artists created this mural: Finnbar Dac (aka FinDac) and Angelina Christina. They’re the same people who created the beautiful and controversial mural at Bar in downtown Palm Springs.
FinDac hails all the way from London, England; Angelina is from the Los Angeles area. They were traveling across the U.S., leaving their larger-than-life painted women and snakes all over the country, in places including Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Minneapolis and New York City—culminating in early December’s Art Basel, one of the largest art events in the world, in Miami Beach, Fla.
Urban areas like Minneapolis and even Palm Springs make sense for street-art-style murals. But Desert Shores? Its last Census population: 1,104. It’s in the middle of the Colorado Desert, sitting quietly alongside the Salton Sea. Desert Shores is largely populated by families, mostly lower-income. It has a laundromat, a closed bar, a couple of churches, a closed marina and a fire station. Life is quiet here. But sometimes what draws a mural artist is not mere location, but the size and availability of an empty wall.
Angelina and Fin came to Desert Shores with friend and fellow artist Craig, aka B4Flight, who has been documenting their journey. The muralists saw the sea for the first time and were intrigued.
Angelina had heard of the Salton Sea, but like most Angelinos, she had not ventured out this way. FinDac had come to Los Angeles to expand on his work. Born in Ireland and based in London, he wanted to explore the world and its empty wall spaces with his paintbrush, stencils and spray cans. He only started painting about five years ago—as an act of self-preservation. It gave him peace and a space away from whatever it was that was haunting him.
He met with Angelina, a muralist and artist based in Venice Beach, and they connected. Same vision, same ideas—including embarking on their epic road trip.
They arrived in Desert Shores and headed for the seashore. Slightly perturbed by the fish smell, ever curious about the circumstances of the sea, and on the lookout for potential wall space, they spoke with a local resident who recommended they pay the market a visit: There was a big, empty wall there.
The owner approved, so they got to work. Local residents came up, curious about their work and impressed by the scale and beauty; kids surrounded them, wanting to see their techniques. (Some of those kids had been tagging in the area and were well-versed in street art.)
The result: “Shesha Sand Storm.”
In addition to meeting with Fin and Angelina, I got in touch with Carmen Zella, whom I met at a Salton Sea-related conference. Carmen is the executive director of the Do Art Foundation, based in Los Angeles.
While Do Art did not play an official role in the Desert Shores mural, Carmen has been promoting Angelina and Fin, as well as other artists and projects that “are artistically uplifting spaces and communities’ access to art.”
Zells is well aware of the myriad issues surrounding the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea needs more positive attention, and Zella feels that bringing public art to the region will ultimately benefit the area.
I was intrigued by how it was that an L.A.-based foundation came across the Salton Sea, and why Zella felt it was important to bring public art to this location. I recently interviewed her via email.
When was the first time you came down to the sea? How did you hear about it, and what intrigued you?
Living in Los Angeles, the allure of the Salton Sea has been mystified and demystified. It’s an area of significance, and creative splendor—yet disregarded by the society at large because of its troubled waters. Artists see beauty where others do not; artists exemplify and portray beauty in areas that are largely ignored. By opening up the area for this type of investigation and exploration, wheels can start turning, and positive attention to the area can be restored.
Why public art? Why the Salton Sea?
Public art is an expression that is democratic. It is non-exclusionary, and is a form of communication that inspires thought—it provokes curiosity, but above all is a reminder that human expression and creativity is vital and should be shared with others. It’s our history and a major part of our evolutionary path. We lack waterways, and in an age of environmental crisis, making the right steps is no longer a choice—it’s a necessity to ensure our survival on this planet and way of life as we know it.
Do you have any particular locations in mind where you would like to see murals?
I love seeing murals that incorporate the surroundings and are sensitive to the architecture. Spaces that are more remote, or demand a sensitive palette, because they have exquisite qualities of decay, or abandon—when they are restored by an artist’s touch with an addition of character, love and tenderness in the way that they spend time together, it’s powerful. How the artist and the building can combine and collaborate to restore the facade into … “art” is my favorite.
Which artists are you thinking of bringing in?
I would love to move more into the Salton Sea … and the community of artists would as well. There are two classifications of artists: the ones who are born as artists who make work because their mission is to express and evolve, and those who make work because their mission is to be known and made legendary. I prefer the former, and I think that the sensitivity of the Salton Sea deserves this type of artist as well.
Do you think it might be possible to have collaboration between local artists and more well-known artists working together on these murals?
Absolutely. Involving the community is always important. Sometimes, outsiders see things that we do not; having lived in the same environment for so long, we forget. The freshness of new eyes that are speaking other languages or hearing strange sounds is a great reflection for ourselves and surroundings. Mixing this with a local culture is the best mix. Most artists need to develop collaborative relationships, so I would never pair people together in this practice, because it is a forced marriage … but there are many ways to incorporate unity. We learn from each other in observation as well as in shared experience.
What do you think the murals and public art will do for the Salton Sea?
Whenever artists move into areas, transformation begins to take shape. This area is equated to decay and environmental tragedy; artists (can) bring in new life and take what is existing and showcase its beauty.
The Do Art Foundation would love to work with local community members, (helping) owners and local artists to make a significant effort to bring the opportunity to the area in the form of a large-scale art movement. For this, we will need support, both financially and in terms of participation of businesses to house, feed and host the artists who would happily come there to share their work. In the wake of this, tourists, art-lovers and attention will be revived in this area—without any agenda other than to uplift the community. We are ready at Do Art Foundation to help connect the artists and make this happen.