Burning Off Water
Three contemporary artists explore the desert from near and afar
Jesse Reding Fleming at his Los Angeles studio.
The desert has long exerted a powerful magnetism on artists. By 1900, painters seeking a fresh source of inspiration and a healthier climate came to the Palm Springs area to work en plein air and contribute a chapter to the story of early California Impressionism. John Frost, Alson Skinner Clark, John W. Hilton, and Agnes Pelton painted desert landcapes deep into the 1940s.
Today, several contemporary artists — including Ed Ruscha, Jack Pierson, Andrea Zittel, Claudia Parducci, and Thom Merrick — seek the High Desert expanses and solitude of Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley, Morongo Valley, and Wonder Valley.
In the 1970s, earthworks artists such as Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson ventured into American West landscapes to pioneer monumental, site-specific art that interacted directly with the primal forces of nature. Today, High Desert Test Sites, founded in 2002 by Zittel and a small group of artists and gallerists, hosts experimental, locally oriented events and installations free of the confines of galleries and museums.
But the desert is perhaps nowhere more seductive or inspiring than in the mind. Three contemporary artists — Nicole Antebi, Jesse Reding Fleming, and Jeff Lipschutz — make art wherein the desert plays a prominent role, yet none of them resides in the desert, nor must they be in the desert to make this work.