Palm Springs has a palette as distinctive as Miami Beach’s pastels or Santa Fe’s turquoise and adobe. The desert city’s signature colors are the orange and yellow of the sun, the teal of a backyard swimming pool, the crisp white of concrete, and the occasional splash of pink. The lines are sharp, the entire package clean and clear as backlit glass.
What happens, then, when an artist deviates from the canon, introducing dusky sages and jammy reds? Shapes that are organic and contradictory, more Peter Voulkos than post-and-beam?
You could ask ceramicist Brian Bosworth. Last year he and his wife, co-owner and co-curator Jamie Poole, expanded their Joshua Tree boutique, BKB Ceramics, to a second location, BKB Art + Design, on North Palm Canyon Drive.
How have customers responded? “You either get it or you don’t,” Bosworth says. “It’s not necessarily for everyone.”
And that’s the point. What Bosworth and the other BKB artists create isn’t for everyone. In a conscious railing against mass production, the shop emphasizes one-of-a-kind items, right down to the coffee mugs. “Everything in here has been touched by an artist’s hand,” Poole says. “When you bring that into your home, you’re going to feel that. Somebody has taken the time to carve this out, design this specifically for your needs.”
If you’ve read Leslie Williamson’s book, Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Mid-century Designers, you’ll recognize the BKB aesthetic — a mix of Donald Judd minimalism and Anni Albers textiles, reinterpreted for the contemporary Southwest. Where Bosworth and Poole’s taste shines is in the balance between heavy and light, Joshua Tree ruggedness and Palm Springs refinement. A brutalist form turns out to be a cactus planter. A craggy sculpture doubles as an incense burner. Don’t use that raku-fired urn for flowers, though. Raku is not waterproof.
These objects test the boundaries of the ever-present question in pottery: Does it have to be functional?
Bosworth and Poole came to the desert from L.A. following the financial crisis of 2007. The move came with a career change for Bosworth, from teaching to entrepreneurship, and a fierce commitment to self-sustainability, even the nature of his art.
“When you’re in L.A., in that art sphere, you’re trying to get in galleries and do shows,” Bosworth says. “You’re speaking a language that everyone understands. It’s a group mentality, and you’re in on that inside joke. You’re making stuff always with that in mind.”
In the desert, away from the pressure to exhibit, he felt complete freedom. His work became more intuitive, grounded, and personal. That included a return to clay. In the 1950s, Voulkos broke the rule that a pot should function as a pot, smashing graceful tradition with abstract expressionist fervor. His ideas influenced generations of ceramic artists, including Bosworth, who was seeking balance between self-expression and marketability. Art he’d created in L.A. no longer seemed relevant. “It didn’t make sense in Joshua Tree to have a 6-foot foam sculpture with things hanging off of it. Like, what am I going to do with this?” he says. “How can you still make things and have that practical element to it? It’s not purely aesthetic or speaking the language of postmodernism and conceptualism. If you let all that go, and you create for your own sense of well-being, that’s when the truth comes out.”
In 2012, the couple opened a store in Joshua Tree. It meant that Bosworth could cut down on multiple teaching jobs, reducing a 200-mile commute. Bringing in other artists made the store sustainable and relieved the pressure on him to fill all the shelves. Once the Joshua Tree experiment hit the five-year mark, though, the space felt too small. Expanding to Palm Springs was the next step.
BKB shows ceramics, textiles, and jewelry created by artists who have a connection to the High Desert.
BKB Art + Design represents artists with a connection to the High Desert. Jonathan Cross, who lives in Pasadena and works in Twentynine Palms, creates the sculptural objects and similarly styled functional items, including planters, cups, and incense burners — meticulously wood-fired to produce a rich, dark patina. Janelle Pietrzak’s wall hangings sparkle with hints of gold, echoing shimmering bronze bowls from Nancy Pearce, and jewelry from Nina Savill. You can even find textiles from Andrea Zittel’s studio, A-Z West.
This month look for pieces from feminist artist, poet, and musician Georganne Deen.
The couple wants to show work by Coachella Valley artists, but it must be the right fit — a combination of technical skill and heart. “Authenticity. That’s what we base everything on. What you’re making is authentic, you’re invested in what you do, you’re passionate about it, you love it. You could really do nothing else,” Bosworth says. “We’re not necessarily trying to find those people, but they find us. Somehow it happens.”
“Everything in here has been touched by an artist’s hand. When you bring that into your home, you’re going to feel that. Somebody has taken the time to carve this out, design this specifically for your needs.”Jamie Poole
The Palm Springs store’s first year is in the books, and Bosworth’s work is beginning to change again. Tones of teal, pink, and yellow dance across bowls and vases. Shapes are less earthy, more playful. It’s the sign of an artist adapting to his environment while continuing to stay true to himself.