Four to Watch

Spanning generations and geography, these artists are linked by their uncommon individuality.

CAROL CHEH Arts & Entertainment

Diane Best recently photographed remote regions of Iceland and Greenland, where the stark Nordic landscape reminded her of the desert.
Diane Best

Diane Best has been coming to the desert since the 1980s. She became so enchanted with it that she eventually took up residence, first in the mountains above Pioneertown, then in Joshua Tree, where she lives today.

Best embarked on a journey of making art that reflects her experience; she creates rich, meditative paintings that capture the endless roll of the landscape and the subtle fluctuations of the desert light. She also has made dramatic black-and-white photos of abandoned homesteads and moody experimental films that explore patches of land throughout the Southwest.

For her current solo show at Joshua Tree’s Taylor Junction Gallery, Best exhibits her passion for vast landscapes in remote regions of Greenland and Iceland, where she recently traveled. Through mandala-like drawings, photographs, and a film, she explores the icy majesty of those Nordic lands, whose stark, untouched quality reminded her of the deserts back home.

Working in the tradition of 19th-century American conservationist artists, Diane Best captures the intense drama of her surrounding High Desert landscapes in paintings, photography, and film.

Colorful, bold, and nonrepresentational in form, John Luckett’s paintings reflect the influence abstract expressionist artists of the 1940s and ’50s have had on his studio practice, which favors “abandon and surprise and radicalism.”

John Luckett

John Luckett is a direct heir to the 20th-century legacy of Western abstract art. His recent paintings, exhibited at Colin Fisher Studios in Cathedral City, use geometric swaths of color as building blocks, layering similar and opposing hues to create aesthetically pleasing puzzles. Abstract expressionism, as well as outsider art, also influence this self-taught artist, who admires the qualities of “abandon and surprise and radicalism.”

Although the main thrust of Luckett’s practice is formalist painting, he also has experimented with sculpture, assemblage, installation, and photography. Last summer, he participated in BoxoPROJECTS’ Active Resistance, an exhibition that commemorated the Stonewall riots, contributing Drag Queens, a collection of photographs “accidentally” acquired from a stranger.

Anonymous and mysterious, the images quietly radiate the power of self-expression. Bernard Leibov, owner of BoxoPROJECTS, chose a solo show by Luckett to launch his New York space in 2009. “For a while, John was an artist’s artist,” Leibov says, “and I am very happy to see him break out in recent years.”

Paul Bellardo

Now in his 90s, ceramicist Paul Bellardo has had quite a career. After completing his studies at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, he taught there for 10 years before opening Bellardo Ltd., a storied arts and crafts gallery that flourished in New York’s West Village for 35 years.

His striking, idiosyncratic, and widely collected works include figural studies (Heads of the Universe), a variety of distinctive pottery, and a signature series of ceramic apples that have been cherished by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Ronald Reagan.

From his first one-man show in 1965, Paul Bellardo sold 18 works to Walter P. Chrysler for the permanent collection of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia. He then began a long, successful career that’s in its sunset years in Palm Springs, where he continues to produce and exhibit his ceramic art. The New Orleans Museum of Art recently acquired a few pieces for its permanent collection.

Bellardo remains an active member of Silica Studios, a ceramic studio and gallery in Palm Springs, where he continues to work on large sculptures. When asked the secret to staying so productive in one’s 90s, Bellardo responds, “Be happy and love what you’re doing.” Bellardo exhibits his work at Woodman/Shimko Gallery in Palm Springs.

Simeon Den

Versatile and eclectic are two words that come to mind in describing Simeon Den. A dancer, photographer, certified feng shui practitioner, yoga and meditation teacher, he is co-founder and director of the Agnes Pelton Society, among other pursuits. In September, he opened a space in Cathedral City that reflects some of his key passions.

In addition to exhibiting minimalist, spiritual, whimsical, and LGBTQ-centered contemporary art, Simeon Den Gallery hosts yoga and tai chi classes, a writers’ circle, butoh dance, musical improv workshops, and other programs. Building and supporting community are important to Den. “I live by the Zen adage, ‘You live and then you die.’ In between those events, methinks we are here to help others flourish and, in good measure, flourish ourselves,” he says.

Simeon Den, a fine artist in his own right, opened his multidisciplinary exhibition and performance space in the Perez Road art district in Cathedral City. Programming focuses 
on contemporary art, 
dance, tai chi, and a variety 
of workshops.