Frank Sinatra has been an inspiration to many singers and musicians. But did you know Frank Sinatra’s garden has been an inspiration for art?
Yes, it’s true: Desert artist Snake Jagger’s art takes its cues from the yard at Ol’ Blue Eyes’ Palm Springs house, where his father worked as a valet.
“Sinatra’s yard was so manicured; everything was neat and tidy. Every rock, shrub and cactus was in its place,” says Jagger. “It was this wonderful setting, and it became my interpretation of the desert—a manicured desert.”
His Morongo Valley studio will be open to the public as part of the Highway 62 Open Studio Art Tours, taking place across the high desert over three October weekends. The self-guided tours allow thousands of visitors from Southern California to go behind the scenes to explore artists’ work spaces, learn how the artists create their pieces, and find out what inspires them.
Jagger, 66, says his love of the desert began to develop when he was 17, when he moved here from Los Angeles.
“I loved the open desert spaces, the ups and downs of the dunes, the date and citrus farms, the little critters, and the dry heat,” he says.
The artist’s attention-grabbing first name came about when he was 19, he says, while working in a restaurant and living in a tent below the tramway in Palm Springs.
“I was walking to work when I saw a dead rattlesnake on the ground. I picked it up and put it in a paper bag,” he says. “I brought it to work, held the bag up to the chef and said I was going to put it in the freezer. He was terrified of snakes and worried what would happen when it thawed out. Then he pointed an angry finger at me and said, ‘You’re a snake man!’”
And Jagger? A year after he acquired the snake moniker, he says, he was lip-syncing onstage at a restaurant in Maui to a Rolling Stones’ song when a man sitting at the bar yelled out, “You’re Snake Jagger!”
The name stuck.
After a period of living in a commune as a “naked hippie,” he produced his first desert landscape at the age of 26. He started to develop his unique style of painting works depicting, in his words, the “manicured desert.” A few years later, he started making a living from his art.
Although he is partially color-blind, Jagger’s paintings in acrylic and airbrush have a vibrancy and life to them which belies the condition.
“I struggle with my color-blindness,” he says. “I can’t distinguish between some colors. That’s why I rarely mix colors, and why my paintings are bright. It’s still a struggle. I have to read the labels on the color tubes so I don’t confuse green and browns, blues and purples.”
Jagger’s art is, in his words, “whimsical surrealism.”
“Most of the time, I add things in my paintings that would not ordinarily be there and wouldn’t occur in nature. It’s a fun thing,” he says. “When I leave the planet, I feel I left a lot behind that will bring smiles to people.”
Local art consultant Phyllis Johnson agrees. “Snake’s work is magical and allows our imagination to soar,” she says. “He invites endless possibilities to bring joy into our lives.”
The fall Highway 62 Open Studio Art Tours, which have been going on for about two decades, were canceled last year due to the pandemic. However, it’s a big comeback event this year, with more than 165 artists slated to open their studios to visitors.
“We are emerging from a great hibernation,” said Robin Hercia, the tours director. “The impact of the pandemic has varied in our community. Some artists were fueled by it and produced a lot of work, while others stopped what they were doing and thought about why they were doing it.”
Hercia notes that this is a rather different type of art tour. “It stands out because of our desert environment with questionable GPS, hand-painted or missing road signs, and vast vistas to the edge of the earth,” she says. “The open studio art tour becomes an extraordinary thing.”
The Highway 62 Open Studio Art Tours will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, from Saturday, Oct. 9, through Sunday, Oct. 24. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.hwy62arttours.org.
“Enchanted Desert” (2010) by Snake Jagger, 48 by 36 inches, acrylic on canvas.