By Angela Romeo

The word Desert conjures up many images. Some see the beauty of the Joshua Tree or the color of the desert sky. Some see a dark forbidding landscape.

The word Icon conjures up many images too. Some see leaders. Some see haughty personalities. Some see YouTube reality stars (really, some do!)

What imagery does one see with the words Desert Icons?  The Yucca Valley Visual & Performing Arts Center, located at 58325 Highway 62, Yucca Valley, California, provides visual assistance. Challenged by Curator Michael McCall artists were asked to present images that reflect the desert and their experience of living and working in the Hi-Desert.   The artists were up to the task.


Desert Icons features work by Snake Jagger, Diane Best, Ernie Gonzales, David Bottoms, Chuck Caplinger, Bill Copeland, Maryrose Crook, Geroganne Deen, Amritakripa Watts-Robb, Paul Donaldson, Gregg Ross, Jeff Lipschutz, and Marcia Geiger; photography by Dan Barlett, Timothy Hearsum, Jeanne Talbot, Bill Leigh Brewer, Sant Khalsa, Brian Leatart, Doug Dolde, Paul Morehead; and multi-media works by Rossana Jeran, Bill Green, John Henson, Kate McCabe, Tony Milici, Thryza Segal, Frederick Fulmer, Sherri Sullivan, Jean-Pierre Boccara, Steffi Sutton, Barbara Spiller, Jacobine van de Meer, Cat Celebrezze, Kevan Yenter and Wendy Gadzuk . The Exhibition runs through October 21.

For artist Barbara Spiller, the challenge was an expression of the richness, variety, grace and beauty of the area. “Don’t miss the small stuff,” said Barbara.  “When I first came to the desert I saw space and light; then rocks and ridges. Closer up, I began to see vertical assemblages of rocks – ‘portraits. And then, as in the works in Desert Icons, I saw the calligraphy of the carpet at my feet: the intricate co-mingling, the chance compositions captured within the small frame of my smartphone and translated into encaustic/drawing.”

“For me, the desert is captured in the delirious tangle of things that grow, bloom, dry, accumulate and exist together here underfoot. This language – the dots, dashes, loops, swirls, the endless story written on the desert floor – is iconographic,” continued Barbara. “The great diversity of artistic inspiration and expression evidenced in the show is the desert story written large.”

Always impressed by the work of Cat Celebreezze, Noah’s Vacuum reflects a different image of desert life.  “Iconography has a tendency toward hyperbole or monolithic symbiology and semiotics that are recognized either consciously or unconsciously on a mass level.  The work I selected for the show has more to with do objects that are either off-center or the micro level or discarded.”

“At this moment there is a tendency for the desert to be portrayed as a place ‘removed’ or isolated, dilapidated and unpopulated, and therefore supporting the myths of freedom and the West that ignore all sorts of history.  The desert is no such place.  People live here. I very much appreciated McCall’s curation as one that avoided the old saws that get associated with the desert or, if the work engaged something familiar, it did so in an unfamiliar way. The diversity of work and approach in the show is a testimony to what the desert can offer the artistic mind. On a local level, it shows that the high-desert is a vibrant place where engagement in artistic endeavors, whether as an artist or as a part of an audience, propagates in surprising combinations. One needs to always look closely and with curiosity.”

Frederick Fulmer’s point of view differs as well. “My work in the show has to do with the old homestead cabins from the 40’s & 50′ that are vanishing around us. I wanted to convey stories of the people that inhabited these dwellings during their search for a new life in the desert. I think it can be said that most of the artists in this show came to the desert in search of a new place to create art. I am presently working on a series called Ghost Cabins which shares a vision of the people that once lived and worked in the Mojave Desert.”

“This show, under the eyes of Michael McCall, brought together the essence of the desert artistic tribe with all its diverse visions. This community shares a wealth of creative energy that fuels our passion for the Mojave Desert we call home.”

Artist Chuck Caplinger is himself, an iconic figure in the High Desert. His work Discovery representative of his desert wildlife and landscape paintings. “I embrace the term ‘Desert Icons’, and feel it is appropriate for the exhibition. The Hi-Desert arts community is made up of a unique and diverse group of artists, and the ‘Icons’ show emphasizes that fact. I see the diversity as an asset to our art community’s future,” stated Chuck. “The comment I most often hear is that when viewing my paintings, a spiritual connection to the desert is felt. My personal spiritual connection to the desert is largely driven by my immediate environment, which is approximately 3/4 mile from the north entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, and by my daily interaction with the wildlife and ever changing colors of the seasons.”

The Exhibition runs through October 21. For more information visit

Desert Icons – Part Two will continue to explore the work of Desert Icons.