In Lucid Stead, Phillip K. Smith III demonstrates reverence for land and light

Higher Desert Art

Phillip K. Smith III, the artist who created Lucid Stead, has a solo exhibition in December at Royale Projects on El Paseo in Palm Desert.


Philip K. Smith III’s Lucid Stead is a remote and ephemeral monument to light in all its shifting, blinding, beckoning, alienating, meditative, magical, natural, and artificial splendor. The site-specific art installation occupies a homestead location about 20 minutes outside of Joshua Tree — a skeletal shelter on five acres surrounded by 40 of federal land that Smith augments with one- and two-way mirrors, weathered wood, and interior light sources to create a temporary, yet epic work. While not officially part of High Desert Test Sites, Lucid Stead coincided with this year’s iteration, and Smith conceived it as a conceptual and geographical cousin — inspired by this “raw environment that invites investigation” — that will live in an indefinite and evolving state.



Smith, also an accomplished architect, has gained notoriety for his large-scale public sculpture in California, Arizona, Virginia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. He was the 2010 artist in residency at Palm Springs Art Museum, where he created Aperture, a light-based sculptural installation “in a constant state of slow change.”

Lucid Stead is different from and on a continuum with works like Aperture, which demonstrates his architectural way of thinking about structure, scale, and sightlines. Smith uses combinations of high-grade plastic, steel, lighting, and electronics, but he reminds you that his light itself is his true medium. He uses LEDs to “extract the distilled experience of how light changes over time — how a mountain out here can be blue, red, brown, white, purple, and black all in one day,” he says. “Color creates space that’s both crisp and organic.”

Sounds like the words of a painter. In fact, Rick Royale of Royale Projects, the Palm Desert gallery that represents Smith and opened an exhibition of his work in November, places him partly in the context of what might be called desert painting. “Much of his passion and inspiration is derived from the distinctive desert light, the slowly changing colors of the landscape, and the unrestrained volume of its wide-open spaces,” Royale says. “These are elements that artists have marveled over for centuries. From the early California Impressionists to Light and Space artists such as Peter Alexander, Phillip consciously continues the historical lineage.”

Smith bought the five acres that became Lucid Stead in 2004. He grew up near Joshua Tree, had moved back from the East Coast several years earlier, and was pursuing his architectural practice as his visual art was coming to the fore. “I wanted to be in the raw, have the experience of no close neighbors. The desert is part of who I am. I missed my brown mountains and my open horizons.”

This relationship is paramount in everything he does — architecture, public sculpture, site-specific installation design, or some combination. The experience of Lucid Stead lands on this continuum, demanding the same kind of hyper-awareness and attentiveness as Aperture and his gallery works. It’s a durational spectacle; it requires a time commitment. Smith says the drive to Joshua Tree is “not the same as a trip to the museum. You have to really participate; you have to engage.”

In these ways, all his work hinges on experiential quality — and that is especially true with Lucid Stead.

Visit and

Add your comment:
Edit Module
Art + Culture
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

Kaoru Mansour Brings Mix of East, West Styles of Art to Heather James Gallery

A perfect blend of past and present, east and west, images from nature designed with mixed materials, Kaoru Mansour is the Ying Yang songbird artist.

Honors at the Art Fair

Sculptor Fletcher Benton and philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer will be honored at the fourth edition of the Palm Springs Fine Art Fair, which unfolds Feb. 12–15, 2015, at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Rising Subversion

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei hits historical and cultural nerves with Zodiac Heads, opening Dec. 20 at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

The War Comes Home

Jennifer Karady: In County, Soldiers’ Stories From Iraq and Afghanistan serves up striking photos that restage service members’ most pivotal, often traumatic moments from the war.

Artful Living

Philanthropist Donna MacMillan’s world-class collection of contemporary works reflects a passion for art that engages and stimulates.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions + Contests

Fashionista Friends

Fashionista Friends

Experience the glitz and glamour of Fashion Week El Paseo 2015.
2014/15 Best of the Best

2014/15 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
GuestLife Magical Monterey Bay Experience

GuestLife Magical Monterey Bay Experience

Food + Wine Festival Grand Experience

Food + Wine Festival Grand Experience

Enter for a Chance to Win a Food + Wine Festival Palm Desert 2015 Grand Experience
Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.
Edit ModuleShow Tags