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04 Jun 2013

Desert Arts: Newcomers Are Bringing Vibrancy to the Backstreet Art District

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The Backstreet Art District is nestled at the foot of the mountains, predominantly in a midcentury dwelling that includes various galleries and decorative-arts businesses. The structure alone is worth a visit to see a segment of the modern architecture with which Palm Springs has become synonymous.

Located on Cherokee Drive (behind Mercedes-Benz of Palm Springs on East Palm Canyon Drive), the Backstreet Art District, despite some tough times, continues to flourish and evolve. This hidden gem features arts and crafts by genuine local artists—and on the first Wednesday of every month, the galleries host an art walk that is open to all.

The ugly recession led to tough times at this vibrant, colorful destination. Some previous anchor galleries have moved to locations that offer more foot traffic—but exciting new tenants have set up shop in this special enclave. The new occupants offer an international flair, as well as world-class portfolios.

One such person is Elena Bulatova, of Elena Bulatova Studios. Originally from Russia, she has an impressive résumé in both art and music (as a violinist). She graduated from Moscow State University and continued her studies in the United States; she received a doctorate degree from MSU and Yale. She splits her time between Palm Springs and Miami.

Another newcomer is Francisco Totó Vargas. Originally from Chile, Francisco creates translucent acrylic paintings on canvas in his studio gallery. He relocated to Palm Springs from New York, where he studied art at the Art Institute of New York City; he later became a member of the faculty there. Francisco’s talents include producing film documentaries, too.

His gallery, Wind of Art, showcases his works, as well as the creations of two artists that he represents. One is acclaimed glass-painter Ulla Darni, whose bright, vivid glass paintings bring a unique art form to the airy, well-lit space. The other, Bill Matlock, creates intricate renditions of ordinary objects, giving them an elated, romantic stance.

Another renovated space rivals any of the tony studios located in the chic Culver City Art District: Jackson Gallery. Owner/artist Al Jackson creates appealing imagery with clean lines and self-assured strokes. He can often be found painting while visitors enjoy his works, which hang against pristine white walls rising from newly polished concrete floors.

The collection at the well-coordinated Haya Gil Gallery is modern, unique and colorful. Haya Gil-Lubin carries art that is reminiscent of famous works seen in big-city modern and abstract collections. Haya is a dedicated gallerist who seems to be the “mayor” of Backstreet Art District; she resides in Palm Springs and Las Vegas. Her gallery is an anchor for the center, and she herself has a strong following thanks to her “Photograms.”

Artize is another new presence, located where Heath Gallery once existed. Owner Kelly Truscott maintains the modern space with original works by artists that she represents exclusively. The selections are varied, with contemporary works as well as works in other genres, including miniature paintings of our famous local vistas.

The newcomers have joined established galleries such as Studio D, where artist-owner Downs has been creating art works on canvas. His methodology is unique: He often applies 400 to 500 layers of paint, encompassing various thickness and transparencies, bringing energy and a sense of action to his paintings.

Then there’s Bill Anson Gallery, where decorative art and sculptures reign in a space that takes visitors back to another epoch within the Coachella Valley. The works are rustic with a Southwestern vibe.

In this same gallery, another painter showcases her talented strokes on canvas. Jessica Schiffman specializes in creating well-crafted images of textural landscapes and abstract interpretations of natural outdoor scenes. She is a product of the San Francisco Art Institute and has illustrated 16 childrens’ books for various publishers. Her paintings are collected by an international audience.

Palm Springs has become a destination for world class art personalities—and the Backstreet Art District is one of the best places in the valley to meet some of them.

Richard Almada is the CEO and president of Artistic Relations, and heads up Desert Art Tours. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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