State of the Art

The desert has long been a source of creative inspiration. these up-and-comers are 
leaving their mark on the local artistic landscape.

Steven Biller Arts & Entertainment, Watch & Listen – Fashion

Emily Silver wears a COS crepe dress and blazer,

emily silver

Working on the “playful edge between humor and tragedy,” Emily Silver upends the celebratory and monumental to reveal a grotesque flip side: their predictably finite nature. Her bright, colorful sculptures, she says, “deal with flops and failures in a funny and beautiful way.” Her cake sculptures, for example, embody the rise and fall of celebration. “An event is more about the idea and the anticipation. The materials expire, and we think about how to dispose of them before the event is over.”

It hardly surprises that Silver, a native New Yorker who splits her time between Yucca Valley and Los Angeles, was a floral designer in a mortuary for 15 years


A scene from her High Desert home studio.

“People would spend so much money on flowers, and after the service, grounds-keepers threw them onto a giant pile. I did a lot of paintings and sculptures around that idea.”

In addition to her studio practice, Silver interviews artists for her blog and podcast, “Curate Joshua Tree,” and will show many of their works in an exhibition at Unpaved, the gallery she’s opening in a storage container on her property with a fellow artist.

Michelle Castillo

Michelle Castillo is the kind of artist who engages in “social practice,” meaning her medium of choice is people: living, breathing people interacting at her pop-up poetry readings, open-mic nights, and sojourns into the desert landscape.

“I was trained in classical music, so that naturally led me to poetry to express myself and make my way through the world,” says the Coachella Valley native, who earned her MFA at UC Riverside. “I use poetry as a vehicle to help us arrive at those places where a dreamscape may or may not exist.”


Michelle Castillo wears a WMV black maxi beach dress,

At last year’s Joshua Treenial art exhibition, she “incubated” on the land and created a poetry installation. Visitors put on headphones and heard her read; later, she led people to her writing spot and read aloud. “Shared experience and community engagement are part of my practice,” she says. “They climb boulders with me and have their own experience. I give them small field journals where they can write their own poetry.”


A few inspirational texts in a corner of her backyard .

ryan campbell

Rows of colorful, crisscrossing lines reach up, down, and across an exterior wall of Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. Bright blues and yellows intersect with rich reds and blacks, as the crisp white lines appear as a source of light.

The mural commissioned by Covered California reads like a burst of optimism and hope. And that suits the artist, Ryan Campbell, who was born with heart and bowel deformities that required a dozen surgeries by the time he was a teenager. The mural scales up his Line Segments paintings, inspired by shadows cast by the architecture of a house where he was installing art.

“I just made a mental note,” says Campbell, who was a graffiti artist in Los Angeles before moving to the desert in 2001. After years of creating figurative and illustrative work, he remains fixated by those shadows. “I felt a connection because it’s visually striking.”


Ryan Campbell wears a Death To Tennis linen shirt,; watch, artist’s own.


The artist at work at his Cathedral City studio.

nalani hernandez-Melo

The many dimensions of Nalani Hernandez-Melo — artist, curator, event organizer — came together triumphantly in “The New Feminist Gaze,” a group exhibition she co-curated in January with Simeon Den at his namesake gallery in Cathedral City. The show surveyed the complexities of womanhood and what it means to be a feminist.

“It was the first show I co-curated in the desert,” says Hernandez-Melo, a Pasadena native and San Francisco Art Institute graduate who moved to Palm Springs five years ago and works as social media strategist at Palm Springs Life. Her studio practice includes precision printmaking, such as a new series of women’s portraits, and loose watercolor painting.

“My portraits and relief-printing techniques take time and control. My watercolor is where I experiment; it’s more intuitive and flowing,” she says, noting that living in the desert has amplified her spirituality, and the show at Simeon Den Gallery is grounding her as an artist, event organizer, and feminist.


Nalani Hernandez-Melo wears a WMV button-up robe dress, A glimpse of her home studio.

adam enrique rodriguez

Four years ago, Adam Enrique Rodriguez “committed to not having a job.” Since then, he has worked nonstop. Last year alone, he painted 13 murals in his bold, expressive, graphic style on buildings and at music and arts festivals across the desert.

“I’m vibing off the environment and whatever I’m going through emotionally,” says Rodriguez, who has had an improbable ascent to professional artist.

He took his first art class as a senior at Indio High School, won best in show at a student competition at Palm Springs Art Museum, and sold a painting to the daughter-in-law of mega-collectors Eli and Edythe Broad when he was 18. He quit Laguna College of Art and Design after one semester (“I didn’t have the patience for it. My emotion wasn’t connected to the work.”) but became inspired handling paintings by Picasso, Pollock, and Renoir while working a part-time job at Heather James Fine Art in Palm Desert.

He refocused on his own work, became a fixture on the street art and festival scene, and now paints on live models, turning his work into performance art.


Adam Enrique Rodriguez wears a COS waffle shirt and his own army trench jacket and necklaces.


Materials at his Bermuda Dunes workspace.

sofia enriquez

Sofia Enriquez’s paintings and murals, with her signature, Modigliani-esque female faces floating in color fields with paisleys and text, assert a subtle message promoting feminism and racial equality. And they’re becoming hard to miss across the desert.

She has painted murals on the exteriors of Taqueria Arandas in Coachella and Windmill City Screen Printing in Cathedral City and inside Wildest Greens in Palm Desert and Bart Lounge in Cathedral City. She has also created temporary installations at Westfield Palm Desert and Synergy Fest in Coachella.

She parlays her iconography — cellphones, dollar signs, words, phrases, eyes, lips — onto upcycled, hand-painted clothing under the name Es Mucho. And she teaches art to kids in local schools and extracurricular programs, noting, “I’m trying to encourage more women and girls to do their thing.”


Sofia Enriquez wears a jacket she hand-painted from her own line, Es Mucho. A vignette in her home studio.


VIDEO: Hear from the six Coachella Valley artists on their definition of art. (Video by Emily Chavous).

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