Joshua Tree

104th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition

When the California Art Club returns to USC's Fisher Museum of Art to present their 104th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition from March 29 - April 19, 2015 this spring, I'll be exhibiting a new large painting titled The Rush. This piece is located in the Pinto Basin of Joshua Tree National Park.

Purchase tickets to the Opening Night Gala Reception here.

The Rush, 24" x 48" © Eric Merrell

The Rush, 24" x 48" © Eric Merrell

Desert Mythos

Four fresh and recent paintings are in a new group exhibition at Altamira Fine Art in Scottsdale, AZ opening next week. Check out all of the work for Desert Mythos online now and then go see them in the gallery starting January 5, 2015. Two pieces are from Joshua Tree National Park and two from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. One work was painted from memory. Can you figure out which one?

Amidst the Slowness, 24" x 28" © Eric Merrell

Amidst the Slowness, 24" x 28" © Eric Merrell

Worlds Drift Away, 11" x 14" © Eric Merrell

Worlds Drift Away, 11" x 14" © Eric Merrell

Two Rivers, 12" x 12" © Eric Merrell

Two Rivers, 12" x 12" © Eric Merrell

Washed in Moonlight, 20" x 22" © Eric Merrell

Washed in Moonlight, 20" x 22" © Eric Merrell

Jackson Hole Exhibition

Four of my paintings are in a new group exhibition at Altamira Fine Art in Jackson Hole, WY opening next week. Check out all of the work for Holiday LookBook online now and then go see them in the gallery starting December 15, 2014.

Shadows Between the Sky, 16" x 20" © Eric Merrell

Shadows Between the Sky, 16" x 20" © Eric Merrell

The Sun Watched Silently Over the Land, 12" x 16" © Eric Merrell

The Sun Watched Silently Over the Land, 12" x 16" © Eric Merrell

Keep Yourself Alive, 12" x 12" © Eric Merrell

Keep Yourself Alive, 12" x 12" © Eric Merrell

Ancient Seabed, 14" x 14" © Eric Merrell

Ancient Seabed, 14" x 14" © Eric Merrell

Seeing Color in the Desert - International Artist Magazine

My article Seeing Color in the Desert (originally posted on CaliforniaDesertArt.com) has been reprinted in the August/September 2014 issue of International Artist magazine. It originally started with notes from my sketchbook about what I was observing while out painting, and what to do about certain problems that color posed or provided a solution to.

On Seeing Color in the Desert

By Eric Merrell

(Originally published on CaliforniaDesertArt.com)

I really began to develop some of the color ideas during my Joshua Tree residency in 2009. In the desert in summer, especially in JT, there are strong shadows early in the morning and late in the afternoon, but for 5-6 hours when the sun is overhead there is hardly a shadow for miles.

Caravan of the Moon, 22" x 24", © Eric Merrell

Caravan of the Moon, 22" x 24", © Eric Merrell

After struggling with it for awhile, I realized that when the shadows disappeared I lost artistically the ability to use value contrast (lights and darks) in a painting, but I still had color contrast. During the middle of the day (as in moonlight), we can still perceive distance, the masses and forms of boulders and trees, and the world continues to exist in three dimensions without the help of shadows (value), so I began to see that color was the way to try to convey that sense of light. One begins to mix all sorts of interesting colors to try and solve the problem. Painting is really problem solving.

These color ideas apply to any situation and any location. But the particular brightness of the desert, where everything exists in such a high-key situation – sand, mountains, sky, brush – it provides a wonderful problem for exploring the richness of color. Just as a white tablecloth reflects the ‘truest’ colors of outdoor light (when we look at something ‘white’, we are seeing the full spectrum of visible light), the desert reflects a great deal of light back to our eyes, back into shadows.

Students in my workshops often comment to me that they see color afterwards that they didn’t see before the workshop. When we study our visual world and what we see in terms of color and paint it is like exercising a muscle: the more often you use it, the stronger it becomes. In the scheme of art history, it also makes sense that our use of color continues to become more and more sophisticated.

Color is a way we interpret our perceptions – truthfully, painting is another language, and not at all related to photography (which is itself another genuine art form). I think it is a language that almost everyone in the world understands, with its ability to bridge cultural barriers, because we all live in a color-filled, three-dimensional world, but most people are not very fluent in it (for many reasons).

In her fascinating book Color, Victoria Finlay remarks that the section of wavelengths that we can see, visible light, includes about ten million variations of color. So the more colors I have on my palette, the more variations I can mix, and the more subtle my vision can become. As well as being descriptive, I can also use those colors to provide an emotional element.

Finlay’s book is about the history and cultures surrounding actual paint pigments. The part I like most, though, is the idea that objects don’t have a static ‘color’ – they’re constantly changing throughout the different light of the day and over time. An orange carrot in the dark isn’t orange.

Molten Universe (View of the Salton Sea), 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

Molten Universe (View of the Salton Sea), 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

As Finlay writes: “The best way I’ve found of understanding this is to think not so much of something ‘being’ a color but of it ‘doing’ a color. The atoms in a ripe tomato are busy shivering – or dancing or singing; the metaphors can be as joyful as the colors they describe – in such a way that when white light falls on them they absorb most of the blue and yellow light and they reject the red – meaning paradoxically that the ‘red’ tomato is actually one that contains every wavelength except red. A week before, those atoms would have been doing a slightly different dance – absorbing the red light and rejecting the rest, to give the appearance of a green tomato instead.”

I’ve been compiling some thoughts as a way for me to better understand color myself, because it’s so multi-faceted. Cezanne was spot-on with his observation that “Painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realizing one’s sensations.” Here are a few notes:

  • Painting involves all the senses, not just sight. Sound plays a big role: One of my favorite parts of painting in the desert is crunching through the sand to my location. Also, when painting at night where our visual perceptions are reduced, audio increases and even small noises are very noticeable, like a lizard scooting by.
  • There is no such thing as “local color.”
  • Society today is so heavily bombarded by photography, film and other mechanical forms of art that we accept it as unbiased truth and don’t look any further or deeper (an individual camera lens doesn’t ‘see’ the same way our eyes do, in stereo, and a photograph can be incredibly biased. Painting in many forms has become a sub-category of photography, aimed at technical prowess, not in its own realm.
  • ‘Color’ is a man-made invention, as is the concept of value. These terms are helpful to us in understanding what we’re seeing, but it becomes very hard to get away from names (i.e., a tree is brown and green, the sky is blue, rocks are gray) – what color is a ‘green’ tree in moonlight?
  • Artists rely too heavily on science to ‘explain’ what they’re seeing instead of developing an eye for color. Art shouldn’t need an explanation. It’s interesting to know, but the scientific reason for why mountains appear bluer as they recede into the distance isn’t necessary to artists. The relationships between the colors however is very important – because, in other words, artists shouldn’t be painting a solely objective scientific vision of the world but should include their own subjective vision with all of the variables that entails.
  • Have confidence in your opinion.
  • We don’t have many historically-based examples of artists using rich color because stronger pigments weren’t available until fairly recently, so artists like Rembrandt had to rely much more on value. Aside from the recent history of Impressionism, when stronger color is used it tends to move away from perceived light in the natural world towards Expressionism or Fauvism, where color is ‘liberated’ from its role (i.e. when AndréDerain paints a bridge, he might paint it bright Cadmium Yellow.) If Rembrandt were alive today, I’m pretty sure he would take advantage of as many contemporary colors as he could, but his earthy palette was a result of the time he lived in.
  • When someone looks at a painting with color, they tend to single out one spot of color – especially if they can name it, say a blue shadow – and look for that individual color in the landscape. Color doesn’t exist in a vacuum like that – that spot of blue is very purposefully placed next to whatever colors surround it, just like in the landscape.

Merrell Looks at Color in his Own Paintings

A couple of these paintings are very dependent on color contrasts – The Heat Lingers at Dusk was done after sunset.

The Heat Lingers at Dusk, 12" x 18", © Eric Merrell

The Heat Lingers at Dusk, 12" x 18", © Eric Merrell

The rocky hill is silhouetted strongly against the sky in terms of value, but the greens of the Joshua Trees were visible in front of that and help create more atmosphere. There is space and depth between the Joshua Trees nearest us and the further hill. We can see the color shifts, but we really can’t see any defining features of the spiky Joshua Trees. Also, the hill is still 3-dimensional, so I needed subtle color shifts to convey the idea that the hill recedes away from us as we look up towards its peaks, angling in space.

The Face in the Sand was a challenge – I could see SO many colors shifts in the shadow, but in the painting those colors have to exist in the shadow realm for it to work.

The Face in the Sand, 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

The Face in the Sand, 12" x 16", © Eric Merrell

It’s counter-intuitive to think that yellow can be a shadow, and ‘dark,’ because we think of yellow as a light ‘warm’ color. All that matters are getting the relationships correct. I try to ask myself what the light is doing, and find some of the color solutions that way. If the yellows were to get too light in value, they would begin to read as part of the sunlit sand on the ground.

Snow Creek Canyon, 22" x 24", © Eric Merrell

Snow Creek Canyon, 22" x 24", © Eric Merrell

Snow Creek Canyon was done on a somewhat overcast morning, but this also needed to show a shift as we visually climb the mountain. The warmer salmony colors towards the base shift towards violets and greens as it gains elevation, shifting and turning away from us.

Shadow of Where a River Once Was, a nocturne, also relies heavily on color contrast. The first impact is value-based with the brightly lit boulders in the foreground alongside a dark shadow, but then our eyes wander up and back into the canyon.

Shadow of Where a River Once Was, 20" x 24", © Eric Merrell

Shadow of Where a River Once Was, 20" x 24", © Eric Merrell

It gets softer and softer, but our eyes can still perceive these little shifts, and value is unable to help us in that arena where it becomes incredibly soft. I’m trying to convey this softness by shifting and playing the colors off of each other while staying in the same value. The sky here is made up of bluish- and reddish-violets, violet-greens, and colors that go beyond naming, but are all relative to the other colors of the painting. Many people including artists think I’m a little nuts for painting in the dark, but if you stand in the moonlight for awhile, your eyes will adjust and you’ll see all sorts of things.

The other pieces have some value contrast in them, but I’ll often use those areas as anchors in a painting to explore other color contrasts. The central Joshua Tree in Echoes and Silence is grounded by its shadow, but I wanted to use that to get to the hill behind it, the bright orange-ochre with shifts towards red and violet, against the sky. It really looked like that, and could have been done without the tree, but that value contrast kept it from getting too abstract in this instance.

Echoes and Silence, 14" x 14", Private Collection, © Eric Merrell

Echoes and Silence, 14" x 14", Private Collection, © Eric Merrell

Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. –Aldo Leopold

I like this quote by Aldo Leopold, which to me is encouraging us to dig deeper artistically. Sunsets, flowers, late afternoon sunlight are all beautiful subjects for painting, but there’s more. Artists have more tools today than artists working 50 or 100 years ago. I think we can go beyond what our artistic forefathers did, in terms of color, composition, and impact. We need to expand our color beyond the predictable and into those areas “as yet uncaptured by language.”

Eric Merrell is a Signature Artist Member of the California Art Club, and a historian for the club. For more on his work see:http://www.ericmerrell.com

Parched Air, 16" x 16", Private Collection, © Eric Merrell

Parched Air, 16" x 16", Private Collection, © Eric Merrell

Master Workshops: Pasadena, Carmel and More

Why should an artist paint on location? How do I know what to paint? How do I create personal work that stands out?

I hope you'll join me for a few workshops that I'll be teaching this October in the Pasadena area, and we'll work on answering those questions. I'm especially looking forward to the Seeing at Night class, as we'll be focused on how to paint on location at night. I think this will be unique, as not many artists work on location to paint nocturnes - I'll show my approach that allows you to see REAL subtlety and color, not invented color.

The Water That Is Entirely Jewels 11" x 14", © Eric Merrell

The Water That Is Entirely Jewels 11" x 14", © Eric Merrell

LANDSCAPE PAINTING, October 4-6, 2013 (3 days)

SEEING AT NIGHT, October 12-13, 2013 (2 days)

I've also partnered with Carmel Visual Arts to do a 3-day workshop in Carmel:

PLEIN AIR ALONG THE SEA, November 9-11, 2013 (3 days) Register here

And if you've been following my California desert workshops, I've just scheduled the 3rd Annual workshops for both Anza-Borrego and Joshua Tree. There aren't many workshops taught in either place, and my experience painting on location in the desert will help to bring the classes to great locations and have a great experience.

3RD ANNUAL ANZA-BORREGO LANDSCAPE PAINTING WORKSHOP, March 14-16, 2014 (3 days)

3RD ANNUAL JOSHUA TREE LANDSCAPE PAINTING WORKSHOP, April 11-13, 2014 (3 days)

Painting Workshop in Joshua Tree

I held my second landscape painting workshop of the year in Joshua Tree during April, a beautiful time to be in the desert. Rain has been pretty sparse the last couple of years, so the annual wildflower bloom was pretty much nil in both the high and low deserts, but the cacti and Joshua Tree are pretty dependable for producing some showy flowers. I've been to the JT area numerous times, but there are always new places to explore and paint. Once you become familiar with different areas, you start to notice differences in elevation, plant life, and color.

We began the workshop at Hidden Valley. I chose a few different locations throughout the high-desert section of the park that would provide different landscapes to paint - open vistas full of Joshua trees, areas packed with huge monzogranite boulders, and mountaintop views of the Coachella Valley and Salton Sea. Even the color of the soil varies from place to place. After painting all morning, the class would take a 3-4 hour lunch break to relax, heading back to hotels or into town for a sandwich. Though we didn't encounter too much wind or heat, the intense light really tires out your eyes, so a siesta is crucial. When we returned in the afternoon after a good rest, everyone was ready to jump back into painting. I began each afternoon session with another demo, same as the morning, and we would paint until sunset. The town of Joshua Tree is not that far off the beaten track (much more established than the sleepy town of Borrego Springs), so we would gather in the evening to eat at one of the good restaurants in town, chat about art, check email, or do a little grocery shopping for a BBQ.

During Day 2 we painted in Lost Horse Valley in the morning and spent the afternoon at Quail Springs. I had initially planned for us to paint at Key's View, a spectacular lookout with views over the Coachella Valley including the San Andreas Fault, the Salton Sea, and San Jacinto, but after we arrived the wind nearly blew us off the precipice. We enjoyed the view for a few minutes before we retreated back down to lower elevations to paint.

Our timing was perfect for nocturnes - the full moon was due to rise just a few days after the workshop ended, so during the workshop weekend a bright moon would already be in the night sky by the time it was dark. I had arrived in the desert a few days before the start of the workshop so I was able to paint a few nocturnes, but after painting all day during the class we just never had enough energy. There was quite an interest in trying to paint the moonlight though, so I'm going to be planning a nocturne-only workshop in the near future. Bookmark this page on my website for upcoming workshop news.

After a very productive workshop and informal critique, we headed out for dinner at Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace, a must if you're going anywhere near Joshua Tree. They feature live music most nights and the food is awesome. The Santa Maria tri-tip BBQ is always hot, and the bowl of chili is amazing. A good evening to wrap up a solid couple of days painting in the Joshua Tree desert.

Paint-Out to Benefit Mojave Desert Land Trust

Desertscapes Paint-out in The Joshua Tree North Wildlife Linkage

Evening reception and art auction at Joshua Tree Art Gallery Saturday, April 28, 2012, 5 - 7:30 p.m.

Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT), along with California Art Club, is hosting an open air painting event on Saturday, April 28th in a beautiful natural area known as the Joshua Tree North Wildlife Linkage.  This paint-out will support MDLT’s current campaign, The Wildlife Linkage Campaign, which aims to preserve several undeveloped parcels in the Joshua Tree North Wildlife Linkage that connects Joshua Tree National Park to the Bartlett Mountains to the north.

From 9am until noon, artists from the California Art Club, Coachella Valley Watercolor Society, and the Morongo Basin will set up their easels and create paintings that will be auctioned off during an artists’ reception at the Joshua Tree Art Gallery (JTAG) later that evening. The paint-out will take place on Section 11, which sits adjacent to the northern boundary of Joshua Tree National Park and within the Joshua Tree North Wildlife Linkage. This beautiful area is home to a diverse population of wildlife and is one of the most scenic hillsides on the south side of Joshua Tree. The artist’s reception and art auction at JTAG will be held that evening from 5-7:30pm and include light refreshments, wine, and of course, the beautiful works of art created that day. Featured artists include:

Diane Best Veronique Branger Chuck Caplinger Richard Calderhead Jean Choi Connie Collins Jim Draughon Hermann Fischer Annette Fragasso Andrew Gillespie Patricia Kodet Ray Lanowy Eli Lund Del Lunde Elaine Matthews Terry Masters Eric Merrell Diane Moore John Ressler Nancy Rizzardi Kathleen Scoggin Esther Shaw Silvio Silvestri Liliana Simanton Sylvia Smith Lisa Spencer Barbara Wells-Roberts Connie Zane

This fun-filled day provides a unique way to support the work of MDLT and The Wildlife Linkage Campaign.  The Joshua Tree North Linkage provides important habitat for animals such as desert tortoise, bobcat, fox, coyote and dozens of bird species.   Mojave Desert Land Trust has preserved 2,126 acres in this wildlife corridor, but acquisition of additional parcels is needed if we want to succeed in protecting this critical linkage.  Find out more about how you can support the Wildlife Linkage Campaign by clicking here.

We look forward to having you join us for this wonderful event! The artists’ reception and auction will be held at Joshua Tree Art Gallery (JTAG), located at 61607 Twentynine Palms Highway, Suite B, in downtown Joshua Tree. To RSVP or for more information, please call us at 760-366-5440.

This event is held in conjunction with Desertscapes, featuring a full month of activities every April in celebration of the Coachella Valley plein air art tradition. More information about Desertscapes, as well as a schedule of events can be found at www.desertscapes.net. The artist’s reception and auction is generously sponsored by Joshua Tree Art Gallery (JTAG). Directions and information about JTAG can be found at www.joshuatreeartgallery.com. The Section 11 Paint-out is co-sponsored by California Art Club (CAC). Information about CAC is available on their website at http://www.californiaartclub.org

The California Art Club's 99th Annual Gold Medal Juried Exhibition

Spaceship Landing, 30" x 30", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

Out Over the Desert (Key's View), 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

These two paintings from the Salton Sea and Joshua Tree National Park will be included in the upcoming 99th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition of the California Art Club at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, June 13 - July 3, 2010.  You'll be able to buy tickets to the June 12 Gala Reception (Sat., 6-9 p.m.) and preview the artwork online here when they become available.

Pasadena Museum of California Art 490 East Union Street Pasadena, CA 91101 626/568-3665

New work at Edenhurst Gallery

Pioneertown Corral_s Pioneertown Corral, 11" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Some of the paintings from my summer residency in Joshua Tree can be seen at Edenhurst Gallery, 73660 El Paseo, Palm Desert, CA. Edenhurst has a neat collection of historic art, lots of early California paintings, as well as some good contemporary work by Junn Roca and Lynn Gertenbach. If you're in the area, stop by the gallery, it's like visiting a museum. Plus, you can always get a date shake at Hadley's, just down the road in Cabazon.

This corral is near the post office in Pioneertown, not far from Joshua Tree. The sign hanging over the entrance gate actually reads "O.K. Corral." The town was started initially as a filming set by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, complete with an "old west" street. If you go, make sure you stop by Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace.

Forbidding Lands_s

Forbidding Lands, 11" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Roaring_Rock_s

The Roar of Time, 14" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

This was painted the day that Ted Kennedy died. I had heard it mentioned on the radio, and when I drove up to the park later in the morning, the flag was at half-mast. When I found this rock near the Hidden Valley area, it reminded me of the "Lion of the Senate."

Paintings from Joshua Tree

See more paintings and photos from the trip on Facebook. Roaring_Rock_s

The Roar of Time, 14" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Joshua_Nocturne_s

Joshua Nocturne, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

Near_Desert_Hot_Springs_s

Near Desert Hot Springs, Afternoon, 10" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Fallen_s

Fallen Joshua Tree, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

After_the_Storms_s

After the Storms, 14" x 14", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Keys_View_s

Out Over the Desert, 10" x 10", Oil on board, © Eric Merrell

After_the_Fires_s

Fire Victims, 11" x 14", Oil on canvas mounted on panel, © Eric Merrell

Hidden_Valley02_s

Hidden Valley, 10" x 8", Oil on canvasboard, © Eric Merrell

Lack_of_Shade_s

Lack of Shade, Midday, 10" x 11", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Artist Residency in the High Desert

LunaMesa_s I recently learned that I've been selected for the Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency program, which will take place in July and August. We (I believe there are a few other artists, but not sure how many) are provided with a place to stay out in the rugged desert landscape, surrounded by cholla and jackrabbits, close by the National Park.

Although this time of year is super hot, I love the area and paint there often (and the houses have swamp coolers); this will allow me to really spend some time with the landscape and explore other places too. I hope to get back down to the Salton Sea again, and also to paint some desert moonrises. A moonrise over the Salton Sea would be spectacular! I'm thinking I'll need to organize my days to avoid the heat: up super early to work, hide out under some cacti during midday, and get back to painting when the sun drops a little lower in the sky. On the checklist: plenty of water and sunscreen, and of course umbrellas. The paintings below are from the Hidden Valley area of Joshua Tree National Park.

NearAndFarJoshuaTree_s

Near and Far, Joshua Tree National Park, 24" x 20", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

Renewed Confidence_s

Desert Sunset, Joshua Tree National Park, 16" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell, Private Collection