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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The Artists Council was established 50 years ago when the Palm Springs Museum was still primarily a natural history and science museum. The purpose of the council was to sponsor exhibitions of local artists and bring support for the arts into the mix of the museum's offerings.

The early work of the Artists Council paved the way for the evolution and growth of the museum—a transformation that was formalized with the renaming of what is now the Palm Springs Art Museum in the early 2000s.

Over the years, the Artists Council itself has grown in size and ambition. While still operating under the umbrella of the Palm Springs Art Museum, the council has recently begun partnering with other art organizations and schools throughout the Coachella Valley—and last spring, the council announced it would become a new nonprofit art organization independent from the Palm Springs Art Museum. Much of the groundwork for this metamorphosis has been completed, and in early 2019, the council will begin fully operating under its own leadership. Both the challenges and opportunities are enormous.

But first, it’s time to celebrate—with the annual Artists Council Exhibition, taking place at the Palm Springs Art Museum from Oct. 20 through Dec. 9.

I talked with Terry Hastings, the co-chair of this year’s Artists Council Exhibition, to find out more about what lies ahead for the council, local artists and our broader community.

What does the Artists Council offer to the Coachella Valley?

First of all, art is important to the mental and spiritual health of a community. It is important to have organizations dedicated to supporting local artists. They are our neighbors, friends and families. They contribute a tremendous amount to the quality of life we enjoy here. Organizations like the Artists Council promote local talent and provide a network for artists to display and sell their work. This keeps money within our community. It also allows us to meet and have a one-on-one connection with the people who create the art.

What kind of services does the Artists Council provide to members?

The purpose of the council is to nurture artistic creation. We provide our members with exhibitions to display and sell their work, critiques, demonstrations and lectures, and field trips. One of the most important benefits is the opportunity to network with other local and regional artists, art patrons and people in the community.

There are about 350 members now. We're looking to expand our membership and having the freedom to partner with different arts organizations in the valley.

How do you plan to attract new members?

We look forward to maintaining the prestige status of our museum affiliation. This affiliation differentiates the Artists Council from other art organizations in the region.

We need to be more creative and responsive to our community. All museums operate under a bureaucracy. They need to be deliberate and carefully research things before making a decision. You always need multiple approvals before taking action. By becoming independent, we increase our ability to react spontaneously.

We plan to hold more regular classes, and also more exhibitions and lectures. We want to offer higher-end classes with nationally known teachers, and we'll simplify the admissions policies. We welcome anyone eager to engage in a wide-ranging dialogue about art and its place in the community.

What are the biggest challenges facing the council?

Many of our future plans are still in flux. It's time for us to take control of our own fate. We are looking for board members with a business background to help us create and implement a new business plan and budgets.

Funding is always a challenge. Our 501(c) tax status is already in place. We will continue to receive some funding from the museum, but new fundraising events are needed.

We are looking for new facilities to continue our classes, salons, critiques and networking opportunities. We also want to establish a permanent gallery.

What is different about the annual Artists Council Exhibition at the museum this year?

I'm very excited about showing the depth and breadth of the artists in the council. The works selected for this show are penultimate examples from the finest artists living in the Coachella Valley.

It is a juried show. A very high caliber of judges was purposely chosen to reflect different backgrounds and areas of expertise. This year, the judges include Anne M. Rowe, director of collections and exhibitions at the Sunnylands Center and Gardens; Cybele Rowe (no relation), an Australian artist, professor and local resident; and Chip Tom, curator at Heather James Gallery in Palm Desert.

Artists Council members were invited to submit three pieces each, of which only one could be selected for the show. We did not give the judges any criteria and just allowed them to select the works to be included in this year's exhibition.

This year's judging has been more rigorous and intense. Because of this, there is a broader scope of work represented in the final selection of 44 pieces for this exhibit.

The judges made their initial selections from photographs, but the actual judging (for the exhibit’s awards) will be finalized once the art is hung in the museum's gallery. The awards ceremony will be on Oct. 27 at 5:45 p.m. in the museum's Annenberg Theater. The cash awards will be announced then, followed by a reception in the Elrod Sculpture Garden. The public is invited.

Uschi Wilson, a local artist and the other co-chair of the Artists' Council Exhibition (pictured below with Hastings), expressed her aspirations for the future in a written statement.

“‘Expanding the Visions,’ our new mantra, developed out of a sincere desire to make the Artists Council a creative, fresh and forward-thinking organization, serving all artists in Coachella Valley and beyond,” she said. “The Artists Council has assisted artists for over 50 years, and we are looking forward to the next 50 years, knowing that what we have in store for the future is nothing less than marvelous.”

The annual Artists Council Exhibition takes place Saturday, Oct. 20, through Sunday, Dec. 9, at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs. The exhibition’s awards ceremony takes place at 5:45 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 27, at the museum’s Annenberg Theater. Admission costs vary. For more information, call 760-322-4800, or visit www.psmuseum.org.

Published in Visual Arts

Sir Winston Churchill is an iconic giant. He was a renowned statesman, a two-time British prime minister, a Nobel Prize-winning author—and perhaps even a savior of Western civilization.

However, most people don’t know he was also a painter—and few have had the chance to see his art. This makes The Paintings of Sir Winston Churchill, on display at Heather James Fine Art in Palm Desert through May 30, a rare treat.

Churchill (Nov. 30, 1874-Jan. 24, 1965) was born into one of the great aristocratic families of Great Britain, the Spencers; another Spencer was Princess Diana. His father was a politician, and his mother was an American-born British socialite. Winston joined the British Army and was elected to Parliament in 1900.

Churchill began painting in 1915, after stepping down as the political head of the British Navy. He was a self-taught artist, but because of his stature, he was able to befriend many of the top British painters. He was always modest about his work—but successfully entered several competitions under assumed names.

He painted in the Impressionist style and preferred to paint outdoors. It’s estimated that he produced about 500 paintings over a 40-year period. He never sold his work and only gave paintings as gifts to his friends and relatives. Most of his work remains in the museum at Chartwell. There are a few pieces in other museums, with the remaining paintings in private collections, including those of Queen Elizabeth II, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

The value of Churchill’s art has risen dramatically over the years. A painting originally given to Clare Booth Luce, “Chartwell Landscape With Sheep,” sold for 1 million pounds in 2007.

“Although painting was just a hobby, Churchill learned new skills which he used in his political and diplomatic life,” said Duncan Sandys, a great-grandson of Winston Churchill, according to a Heather James news release. “It gave him a sanctuary during adversity and, I believe, made him more effective in 1940 as Hitler prepared to invade Britain.”

The 11 paintings on display at Heather James Fine Art are from the 1920s to 1940s, from the collection of the late Julian Sandys, Churchill’s eldest grandchild and Duncan’s father.

I asked Chip Tom, a curator for Heather James Fine Art, how the exhibit came to the valley.

“The exhibit came about from a local desert person introducing us to the Churchill family,” Tom said. “We have been working with the family for about 6 months in trying to organize bringing the paintings to the desert.”

Tom said the response to the exhibit has been fantastic. “Part of the mission of Heather James Fine Art is to bring world-class, museum-quality work to the desert communities and make it available to the public,” he said. “This is for everyone in the valley. We’re not a museum, but you can come and enjoy great art, and there is no entry fee.”

I made several visits to the gallery to spend some time with these paintings. The hand of the artist is palpable; they are very honest works. There are areas that speak of technical brilliance and artistic insight, but Churchill doesn’t try to hide the struggle and frustration when he didn’t get it quite right. As an amateur painter myself, I found this encouraging.

There are nine landscapes, a seascape and a still life in the collection. “On the Var,” from 1935, is the largest and most polished. It reads as a tribute to Cezanne—but there is an area in the foreground, depicting a small stream, that was obviously problematic for Churchill. In “Lake Near Breccles in Autumn,” also painted in the 1930s, he had no such problem: The surface and reflections of the water are rendered in confident and fluid brushstrokes reminiscent of Monet’s waterlilies.

We will never know exactly how painting influenced Churchill’s role as a statesman, leader and writer. However, we do know painting was important enough to him that once he picked up a brush, he never traveled without his paint box, canvases and easel.

The exhibit The Paintings of Sir William Churchill is on display through Wednesday, May 30, at Heather James Fine Art, 45188 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert. For more information, call 760-346-8926, or visit www.heatherjames.com.

Published in Visual Arts

If you have not yet paid a visit to Heather James Fine Art in Palm Desert, go now—while you still have the opportunity to enjoy the fantastic Warhol exhibition that’s on display at the gallery into April.

Andy Warhol’s works may very well be the most-recognizable art in the world. His parents were immigrants from Slovakia, and he was born in Pittsburgh; of course, he would go on to become one of the most controversial pop artists of all-time before his death in 1987. He turned ordinary objects into iconic symbols—celebrating the mundane as art.

His art is a perfect fit for Heather James Fine Art, which shows art in various genres from around the globe, including a lot of blue-chip works. The exhibit Andy Warhol: Paintings and Prints has been on display at the gallery since November.

“It was an honor and a pleasure to bring dozens of Warhol pieces to the Coachella Valley,” said curator Chip Tom. “He is one of few contemporary artists recognized worldwide. China, Russia, Africa—everyone knows Warhol.”

Warhol celebrated celebrities—and in doing so, he became one himself, thanks in part to his clever marketing tactics. I used to live in New York City, and I remember when Warhol would arrange for groups of photographers to follow his every move in public.

Heather James is not just showing the works of Warhol; the gallery is also presenting an exhibition of abstract art by five artists, each with an expressive style. One of those artists is Luc Bernard, a Canadian artist now residing in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. He began as an encaustic painter who created lush landscapes, but his style eventually evolved into abstraction.

Another artist, Betty Gold, a familiar name to the desert, is best known as a sculptor whose works in steel are collected all over the U.S. and Europe. Two of her huge works reside in front of the gallery’s garden space. David Hare (1917-1992) was also primarily known for his sculpture, but he also worked in photography and painting. He was a founding member of the Subjects of the Artist School in New York in 1948, along with Mark Rothko, William Baziotes and Robert Motherwell. Nice company! Speaking of nice company, Hare’s friends included Jean-Paul Sartre, Balthus, Alberto Giacometti and Pablo Picasso.

The exhibit also includes the works of abstract expressionist painter Arne Hiersoux (1938-1983), and Norman Zammit (1937-2007), a pioneer of Light and Space, one of the most important art movements born in Los Angeles in the 1960s.

Another American artist, Alexander Calder (1898-1976), gets a gallery wall at Heather James dedicated to several of his works. He was famous for both his abstract art and his mobile sculptures. His mastery of bright colors and striking designs offers a real treat to the senses.

Finally, Salvador Dali—the Spanish artist who became synonymous with surrealism, and who was the subject of a significant exhibit at the gallery last year—retains a presence at the gallery, which continues to show some of his works.

Dali was a mere 12 years old when he enjoyed his first exhibition of charcoal drawings. He entered art school in 1922, and in the late ’20s, he met and then worked with Picasso, Miro and Magritte. He was introduced to America in 1934 by art-dealer Julien Levy and was an instant sensation. Dali was known as much for his eccentric behavior and attention-grabbing public actions as he was for his art—just like Andy Warhol. Therefore, it’s fitting to see their works together under the same roof.

Heather James Fine Art is located at 45188 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 760-346-8926, or visit www.heatherjames.com. Below: “Les Pyramides Grandes,” by Alexander Calder, color lithograph.

Published in Visual Arts