Steven Biller © 2016
As heartbreaking as it is beautiful, the beleaguered Salton Sea exudes a post-apocalyptic air that defies its picturesque surroundings.
Created 100 years ago, when the Colorado River burst from an irrigation canal, California’s largest lake might have evaporated in the blazing desert sun if not for the agricultural runoff from nearby farmland. But the sea has no outlet, no waterway to flush out the runoff, salt, and minerals. Salinity now exceeds the Pacific Ocean by 30 percent. Storms over the years have battered almost every structure in sight. It’s unlivable.
Nevertheless, the sea has fascinated artists for almost 75 years in its various states of health and disrepair. Maynard Dixon, a renowned painter of Western landscapes, came in the 1940s, occupying a shack along the railroad tracks in the North Shore area. His artist friends John Hilton, Jimmy Swinnerton, Clyde Forsythe, and Carl Bray also painted in and around the area. And Ed Ainsworth, a Los Angeles Times columnist, immortalized them and others in his classic 1960 book, Painters of the Desert.
On March 21, The Salton Sea: Lost in Paradise, an exhibition featuring 10 artists whose work focuses on the sea, opens at the Marks Art Center at College of the Desert in Palm Desert. The show continues through May 1, 2016.
“This exhibition is not only a tribute to the artists who have found inspiration in the Salton Sea, it is a tribute to the endurance of the sea itself, and to the people who are dedicated to preserving it,” says the show’s curator, Deborah Martin, who’s also one of the artists.
The exhibition covers a variety of media, including photographic works by Bill Leigh Brewer, Doron Gazit, Christopher Landis, Joan Myers, Kim Stringfellow, and Victory Tischler-Blue.
Andrew Dickson, Mary Austin-Klein, and Eric Merrell will show new landscape paintings, including Merrell’s sea-inspired nocturnes, while Martin exhibits work from her series “The Slabs: The Last Free Place in America.”
La Quinta Arts Foundation scholarship recipient Cristopher Cichocki has a video work in the exhibition alongside sculpture by Ashley Hagen and Aili Schmeltz. There’s also a site-specific installation by Los Angles-based Thinh Nguyen, who’ll also present a durational performance, “From Dawn to Dust,” on April 1, from 5 to 7 p.m. “I’m mourning the rise and desolation of the area’s abandonment, and I’m praying for its fate,” he says. “If nothing is done, it could lead to a disastrous dust bowl and pollution.”
Martin contextualizes The Salton Sea: Lost in Paradise with memorabilia from the collection of the late Jennie Kelly, a passionate advocate for the Salton Sea and its history who founded the Salton Sea History Museum that was originally located inside of the North Shore Yacht Club.
See The Salton Sea: Lost in Paradise (March 21-May 1) at the Marks Art Center at College of the Desert in Palm Desert on Mondays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The public is welcome to the COD faculty and staff reception on March 31 and the opening reception is April 1. Both receptions run from 5 to 7 p.m.
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