History is long. Memory is short. Art reminds us. Zzyzx Revisited is an exhibition inspired by that remote corner of the Mojave Desert that demonstrates the full cycle of modern Southern Californian desert history: From Indigenous trade route; to gold rush era federal fort; to railroad outpost; to a much hyped health resort; and finally an environmental research station. The exhibition looks at the sustainability of the current land rush in the local area through artworks both inspired by the attractant qualities of the region (light, space, architecture, nature, lifestyle) and those reminding us where history has taken us before.
Artist work images not indicative of final selections:
Blake Baxter was born in Los Angeles and attended UCLA School of Arts and Architecture before completing his BA in Fine Art at UC Santa Cruz. He is best known for reductive monochromatic paintings incorporating aggregates such as sand and cement. His work is optical- focusing on light and space as a way to affect the gaze of the viewer. Often working with black acrylic washes and many dense layers of sand, he creates a reflection and movement that changes under different lighting conditions. The work can be seen as exercises in the interpretative power of consciousness, providing viewers a pathway towards separation from the mundane through a mediated process of observation. Blake has exhibited in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Oakland, Seattle, Joshua Tree and Palm Springs; and was an exhibiting member of the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition. His work is included in the permanent collection at the Palm Springs Art Museum, as well as numerous, notable private collections. Blake lives and works today in Joshua Tree, CA
Diane Best was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and studied in the San Francisco area (Stanford & the San Francisco Art Institute) before moving to Los Angeles. In L.A. she created commercial artwork for the entertainment industry and commissioned portraits while pursuing and showing her original artwork. Best left Los Angeles in 1995 and settled in Joshua Tree, California, where her focus shifted towards capturing the intense drama of the desert landscape that surrounded her through painting, photography and moving-image work. Working in the tradition of American conservationist artists of the 19th century, Best strives to modernize landscape painting and film making using contemporary theories of perception— influenced by deep ecology, photography, cinema, digital imaging and animation. Her work has been exhibited widely in regional and national venues.
Ryan Campbell (1981, Los Angeles, California) is an accomplished painter and muralist. He garnered technical skills for painting early on in his years while creating murals in the graffiti culture of the 1990s and early 2000s. Ryan refers to his practice as investigations in geometric abstraction, minimalism, and hard-edge painting. His Line Segments series are evidence of this description with their groupings of hard-edged layered bands of color that intertwine in abstract and geometric patterns. Campbell’s work and practice are inspired by acclaimed artists LeWitt, Martin, Stella, Soto, and Phillip K Smith III. Campbell was recently commissioned to create a large-scale Line Segments mural for the City of Palm Springs directly adjacent to the Palm Springs Art Museum. Corporate commissions include AEG World wide’s Goldenvoice, Pernod Ricard, Red Bull North America, Covered California and Branded Arts. Campbell’s works are in several important American collections, including the MacMillan collection, and private collections around the world. Campbell works and lives within the scenic backdrop of the Santa Rosa Mountains near Palm Springs, California.
Gerald Clarke Jr. was born in 1967 in Hemet, California and is an enrolled member of the Cahuilla Band of Indians. He currently lives and works on the Cahuilla Indian reservation located in Southern California. Gerald is a frequent lecturer, speaking about Native art, culture and social issues. He holds a B.A. in Art from the University of Central Arkansas and the M.A./M.F.A. degrees in Painting/Sculpture from Stephen F. Austin State University. From Gerald’s statement: “I express my Cahuilla perspective as a 21st Century citizen of the world and the passion, pain, and reverence I feel as a contemporary Cahuilla person”. Gerald’s work has been exhibited extensively including his recent solo exhibition at Palm Springs Art Museum. He currently serves as a Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California-Riverside and teaches classes in California indigenous history and culture, contemporary Native American art and related social issues. When not teaching or in the studio, Gerald assists in running the Clarke family cattle ranch and remains heavily involved in Cahuilla culture.
Sofia Enriquez is a Mexican-American Fine Artist working in the Coachella Valley and in Honolulu, Hawaii. Enriquez received her BFA in Communication Arts at Otis College of Art & Design in 2014. Sofia creates works that explore her intercultural identity, symbolism, and feminism. Her practice consists of murals, large scale paintings, and her fashion collection MUCHO, that consists of one of a kind painted garments. Enriquez’s visual language includes simplified portraiture that is inspired by androgyny, traditional catholic paintings, and “Spanglish” phrases that are used as captions on some of her paintings to comment on her cultural diversity growing up in the United States. The iconography she uses create a literal way of her storytelling. She weaves bold elements such as Paisley, faces, and other graphics into fluid-like compositions that create the illusion of movement and timelessness.
Kim Manfredi graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art with a BFA in 1988 and then worked as a skilled decorative painter for many years. She returned to school and graduated with an MFA in Fine Art in 2009 and moved to the Palm Springs area in 2016. Working initially as a figurative painter, the Pandemic inspired a period of experimentation in which Kim began applying paint in a freer, liberating and abstract way. Kim is a serious cyclist who cycles daily with other riders through the valley and into the mountains. These journeys power her artistic vision and provide the raw materials for new paintings. After graduating MICA, she was represented by C. Grimaldis Gallery, 2009 – 2013 and has attended residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, VCCA, Maryland Art Place and most recently a portfolio reviewed workshop at Anderson Ranch. Kim has exhibited at various venues in the Coachella Valley and is a founder of the Desert Open Studios Tour.
Carlos Ramirez (b. 1967) is a visual artist born and raised in the Coachella Valley (California). As the son of migrant-worker parents, whose mother who once worked with civil rights leader Cesar Chavez during the grape boycott of the 1970s, his personal experiences of struggle and victory as part of this resilient community informs Ramirez’ point of view. An overarching theme in his work is bringing visibility to an oft invisible people, such as highlighting the inequalities within Mexican-American communities and uplifting the common man. Ramirez’ paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, and animations incorporate found objects in an excavation and exploration of artifacts and cultural identity. Ramirez recently completed a public art project for a social justice initiative in Austin, TX in concert with PBS as well as a project for the Museum Of Art and History (MOAH): Lancaster. He has had exhibitions at the Oakland Museum of California, the Crocker Museum, Laguna Art Museum, Palm Springs Art Museum, New Image Art Gallery, ACE Gallery Beverly Hills, Jonathan LeVine Gallery, Thinkspace Gallery, and has had commissioned projects for the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, Samsung, and Wynwood Walls.
Cara Romero was born in 1977 in Inglewood, CA and is a contemporary fine art photographer. An enrolled citizen of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, Romero was raised between contrasting settings: the rural Chemehuevi reservation in Mojave Desert, CA and the urban sprawl of Houston, TX. Romero’s identity informs her photography, a blend of fine art and editorial photography, shaped by years of study and a visceral approach to representing Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural memory, collective history, and lived experiences from a Native American female perspective. Maintaining a studio in Santa Fe, NM, Romero regularly participates in Native American art fairs and panel discussions, and was featured in PBS’ Craft in America (2019), the same year she participated in Desert X.
Aili Schmeltz is a sculptor and painter that splits her time in between Los Angeles and Joshua Tree, CA. Aili studied at UCLA, earned her MFA from the University of Arizona, and a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute. Her research based process integrates utopian ideologies into paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Reflecting on Modernism and obsessively engaging with architectural forms, Aili manipulates and reduces these ideas and objects to their simplest form. She challenges the modernists notion of a perfect future and her critical approach questions the political philosophies of the American West that created the artificial environments in which we now live. She has exhibited nationally at galleries such as Edward Cella Art and Architecture, ACME, Commonwealth and Council, and at the Pasadena Museum of California Art in California, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson; and internationally in cities such as Berlin, Tokyo, Barcelona, London, and Zurich. Aili has been awarded several grants including the Pollock Krasner Grant, and attended several US and international residencies. She is the Founder of Outpost Projects and teaches at Otis College of Art and Design.
Ryan Schneider Ryan Schneider was born in Indianapolis, IN and holds a BFA from The Maryland Institute College of Art. While previously known for his vibrant paintings, Ryan has been experimenting and moving into an energetic sculptural practice. Although appearing anthropomorphic, these sculptures are inspired by natural phenomena rather than man’s interventions in the environment. Their solidity and placid expressions seem to bear silent witness to the traces of our history. Recent solo exhibitions include “Knock on Wood” at The Pit, Los Angeles, “The Chorus” at Louis Buhl, Detroit, and “No Filter Eden” at V1 Gallery, Copenhagen. Recent group exhibitions include “Wild Frontiers” at The Pit, Los Angeles, and Hope and Hazard: A Comedy of Eros” curated by Eric Fischl at The Hall Art Foundation in Reading, VT. His work is held in public and private collections worldwide, including the Hall Art Foundation and the Bank of America Collection. After many years in New York City, Schneider now lives and works in Joshua Tree, California.
Kim Stringfellow is an artist, educator, writer, and independent curator based in Joshua Tree, California. She is a professor at San Diego State University’s School of Art + Design. She received her MFA in Art and Technology from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2000. Claremont Graduate University awarded her an honorary doctoral degree in 2018. For the past twenty years, Stringfellow’s creative practice has focused on the human-driven transformation of some of the American West’s most iconic arid regions through multi-year, research-based projects merging cultural geography, public practice, and experimental documentary into creative, socially engaged transmedia experiences. Kims’s work has been exhibited widely nationally and internationally and is included in many prestigious collections including Yale and the Nevada Museum of Art. She is a 2016 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Fellow and a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow in Photography. amongst other awards.
After growing up in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, Phillip K. Smith III received his Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. From his Palm Desert, CA studio, he creates light-based work that draws upon ideas of space, form, color, light + shadow, environment, and change. Featured in hundreds of online and print publications, Phillip is known for creating large scaled temporary installations such as Lucid Stead in Joshua Tree, Reflection Field and Portals at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, ¼ Mile Arc in Laguna Beach, and The Circle of Land and Sky at inaugural 2017 Desert X exhibition. All of these installations are featured in his latest catalog titled Five Installations published by Grand Central Press. His public artworks are sited in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kansas City, Nashville, Oklahoma City and beyond; and the artist was recently commissioned to create permanent, light-based works for the cities of West Hollywood, CA and Bellevue, WA as well as at the Newark Museum. The artist’s work was also included in the exhibition and catalog Unsettled organized by the Nevada Museum of Art and artist Ed Ruscha.
Ben Allanoff is an artist based in Joshua Tree, CA, working primarily with plant material, found objects, steel, and wire. His work ranges in size from tabletop to large scale installations for public parks, botanical gardens, and other outdoor spaces. Ben’s background includes chairing an environmental non-profit dedicated to minimizing the negative impacts of human activity on the natural environment of the Santa Monica Mountains. He grew up near Philadelphia, PA , and graduated from Duke University with a degree in History. Ben’s site specific sculptural installations have been shown regionally and nationally including at the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia, PA, the Huntingdon Library in San Marino, CA and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Agoura Hills, CA
Bernard Leibov is the Founder and Director of BoxoPROJECTS, a residency and programming initiative based in Joshua Tree, CA. He is also co-founder and co-curator of the Joshua Treenial. Prior to moving to California, Bernard was Deputy Director of Judd Foundation in New York and Marfa. He also operated a non-traditional gallery space in New York City which featured artists from Joshua Tree and other non- urban areas.
Curatorial framework (not meant for publication):
Motoring between the Los Angeles metropolis and Las Vegas, one passes a mysterious exit simply titled Zzyxz Road. Out in the open imagination of the Mojave, one makes a mental note to look up this odd place and simply forgets once caught up in the bustle of arrival. Zzyxz is in fact a myth-worthy site that encapsulates the modern history of Southern California. Traversed by native people for eons, the Soda Dry Lake area is the terminus point of the Mojave River. It was occupied by the US military in 1868 to protect gold rush supplies moving between California and Arizona. Eventually, much of the area went up for grabs to the public for mineral rights and a crafty fellow by the name of Curtis Howe Springer established a quasi religious health retreat featuring rest, supplements and hot springs. This was Zzyxz, “the last word in health”. Authorities eventually seized the land citing fraudulent practices on the part of Springer, and the buildings were ultimately turned over to the state’s university system for use as a research station.
Zzyzx Redux is an exhibition of works by local artists that recalls the cycles of boom and bust that the SoCal deserts have endured for the past 150 years. Manifest Destiny, the Gold Rush, homesteading and health pilgrimages have all driven forces of dislocation, destruction and exploitation. Soda Dr Lake, The Salton Sea, Lanfair Valley and other locations of interest have become research stations bearing witness to the forces of our hubris. With the Pandemic driving another cycle of relocation and development, are we pushing our communities over the edge? Will our homes ultimately become research stations or training bases for life on another planet? The artists in Zzyxz Revisited celebrate the key qualities of the desert that keep attracting people to the region and remind us of the history and impact of these cycles.