Nicolai Fechin

Desert Wanderings

The Call of the Desert (Box Canyon), 12" x 16", Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

The lure of the desert recently bit me again and so I went out to the Coachella Valley to paint with Andrew Dickson, Joe Forkan, Yu Ji and Larry Groff at the Salton Sea and some other great spots in the area. We explored some places I haven't been yet, like Box Canyon and Painted Canyon, hiked to the Dos Palmas Adobe and Oasis, once the home of artist John W. Hilton (who lead quite an interesting life: he was a friend of President Eisenhower, James Cagney, Howard Hughes, and the early desert artists including Nicolai Fechin and Maynard Dixon used to gather at his place for parties - more info on Hilton here and here). We also spent some time painting the surreal landscape of Bombay Beach.

The Solid Becomes Light (Painted Canyon), 9" x 12" sketch, Oil on panel, © Eric Merrell

In Hilton's words, the desert ". . . is a land of peace, silence and boundless skies …It is as if nature herself set aside these vast areas …so that thinking men might have a place where they go to regain their perspective and find themselves and their true meaning.” From what I understand, the Dos Palmas Adobe has been designated a Historical Monument and is no longer in danger of demolition.

In the top painting above I was interested in the composition - the focus on the deep shadow on the left that then moved across the calligraphy of the face of the cliff in sunlight. After I sketched it and made some notes in my sketchbook,  the color harmonies brought it all together. The painting below that was a fun challenge - frontally lit with almost no shade save under a bush or two - I had to use subtle temperature shifts to suggest some of the form changes on the hills.

If you're in Mecca, make sure to eat at Plaza Garibaldi Restaurant, 91275 66th Avenue, Mecca, CA 92254, 760/396-1500. Some of the best Mexican food I've had in California - you can get a good idea of the quality of a place by their chips and salsa, and these were amazing! Also, homemade tortillas!

Happy 100th Birthday CAC!

One Hundred Years! It's an amazing feat for any group, let alone an art club where the demands of the career as well as individual temperaments generally keep members working in isolation. Today marks the Centennial of the California Art Club. The founding of the club was first reported by Antony E. Anderson in the Los Angeles Times on December 12, 1909, one hundred years ago to the day. The early meetings took place along the banks of the Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena and throughout greater Los Angeles, and included artists like Franz Bischoff, Aaron Kilpatrick, and William and Julia Wendt. The CAC's predecessor, The Painters' Club of Los Angeles (1906-1909), had limited its members to male painters in the L.A. area. With the founding of the new club, the rules were widened to allow women, sculptors, and others living as far away as New York City to join. Throughout the CAC's storied history it has embraced time-honored techniques found in the grand traditions of painting and sculpture, molding them into contemporary relevance; at the same time it helped to present such progressive events as the first black American art exhibition in Los Angeles (1929) and the first G.I. Arts & Crafts exhibit (1946, also in L.A.), and maintained a venue to present exhibits of diverse themes and backgrounds.

Over the past century, the club has counted among its members Sir Winston Churchill, architect Richard Neutra, illustrator Dean Cornwell, artists Alfredo Ramos Martinez, Sergei Bongart, Nicolai Fechin and Theodore N. Lukits, as well as many distinguished guests and speakers: the Mexican muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, conductor Leopold Stokowski, violinist Xavier Cugat, architects Frank Lloyd Wright and his son, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. (And of course, most of the well-known Southern California artists throughout the years, too numerous to mention in this post but listed online here).

In recognition of this milestone, I thought I'd link to my article on the Birth of the California Art Club, originally published this past spring. Here's to the next hundred years!

The California Art Club will be publishing a large coffee table art book (due out in early 2011) with Rizzoli Publishers to commemorate the Centennial, and will be full of paintings by historic and contemporary members of the CAC. Purchase your copy here.

The new logo above was designed for the Centennial by CAC Associate Artist Member Stan Prokopenko.