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Ever ponder the thought of how to express yourself? Do not, under any circumstances, have a Madge Moment from that question proposed. Truth be told, I am a closeted artist. I paint often and my garage tends to look like Jackson Pollock threw up in it. I struggled for years to come out as a true artist. As children, we instinctually listened to our imagination without limits or boundaries. As adults, we perceive, compute and communicate, and hopefully get the chance to express.
On the more serious side, the gap bridged between emotion and conflict in gay culture has now progressed to a pillar of intense expression, that the many artists who place themselves out there, give inspiration to those of us fearing the paintbrush, or simply finding meaning behind the chaos of the tortured artist.
Compelled to immerse ourselves within the art community, we investigated our valley to find some of the most intriguing gay artists. I recalled the later part of the nineties, when many artists in Los Angeles seemed to be these relentless and insufferable characters, who never sold a piece of art yet managed to pay their rent and buy Prada.
In the mid 1990’s, a psychic once told me that I was a “muse” in my former life, I jokingly told him I wasn’t too impressed with this current life. “No, you were an artist’s muse”, he explained. “He was very famous and you haunted him,” he said ominously. “I tend to have that effect on men,” I stammered. This past experience led me on an excursion throughout our community in search of the gay men and women artists and the muses that inspire them. A Zen teacher once told me that to find my inspiration, or inner muse, I was to change the way I looked at things. First step was to realize art was no longer defined by obscurity and contained to pretentious openings with brie en croute and cocktail servers who were prettier than the art.
Forever lost are the days where a gay artist was ‘paper bag, bottom shelf;’ when sexual orientation was often questioned and dismissed, and not celebrated. The Warhol Factory is nothing but a ruin, and if the voice of Andy Warhol could be heard amidst the wind in our valley, he’d perhaps mumble praises of approval, and so would Candy Darling. In those days, art critics were the mean lion at the gate and would just as quick bite your head off than give any magnanimous praise.
The local galleries I have visited seemed to revel with the community of artists rather beautifully, but the gays got lost amongst the paintings and watered down pinot. True, this is about the art, sexuality is not the revered subject and orientation obviously not the primer of the evening, yet somehow, my friend and myself asked ourselves, ‘where the hell are the queer artists?’ At times we felt as if we were at a high school dance playing a gay version of Where’s Waldo.
The Shag show downtown could not have been more crowded. Shag is the continuous classic car that never goes out of style. Shag never disappoints, and to me it’s like a very clean vintage sweater, it fits perfectly and always looks good. I would love to have spoken with this allusive man on all things art. How does art as a whole impact our valley? How do we carve the niche to prominently stand out from the pack? However, we could not find Shag, he must have exited through the gift shop.
One particular inter-active art show at a local boutique hotel, became more of craft night in a Mad Max movie and giving into flights of frolic and the new bohemia tended to, again, lose the focus amidst our fellow gay folk. I sipped an overpriced long neck beer and wondered, ‘where is there a forum for local gay artists?’ Are they the Holy Grail of the underground art community in the valley? Are they hidden to one co-op? Is that what’s going on behind Liberace’s gates?
That was until on one evening we stumbled into the pulse of the First Friday Art-Walk at Crystal Fantasy in downtown Palm Springs. I wanted to visit Joy Meridith, my magical friend and gracious hostess, whom without I would never have remembered my love for a drum circle. Joy showed me many works of art without hesitation. I spoke to my friend about how so many moons ago I was on the island of Oahu, and I felt grounded to that land, and it wasn’t due to the three Blue Hawaii’s I drank.
Paradise seemed only a memory until I met Dirk Yates, the Godfather of Palm Springs Tiki Art. Dirk’s boundless artwork becomes a powerful nod to an era gone by, yet manages to stay bold in current times. Serving as co-host to Crystal Fantasy’s Art walk, Dirk Yates continues to amaze and impress the palate of his viewer to fall in love again with a classic. Perhaps we are often unable to witness paradise firsthand, but with Dirk, he takes you there with ease.
I once had a friend tell me that ‘the secret to a great man is to see the world through his eyes.’ I recall seeing William Dey around town, always classic, always refined. This intriguing man’s eyes would seem to observe the nuances that make up this valley. One look and you would know that he sees beyond the face or object.
There is a sense of grace, and a boldness so free, you feel the connection between you and his pieces. That old song says, “a chair is still a chair,” but when photographer and artist William Dey gives us our valley through his eyes, we are beyond mere form and object. Architecture becomes an alluring animal of sorts, and shadows are both haunting and welcoming. Mr. Dey brings the term glamorous to undefined heights. Like a fine Armani suit that speaks volumes in function and display, still remaining classic yet sexy, and always a balance of the two, is what I found in the art of William Dey.
Take “Yellow Float” for example, it speaks brilliant volumes of summer, yet whispers the debonair ease of Mr. Dey. Let’s face it, no one, in my eyes can capture the ”Red Jaguar” like William Dey. With its almost candy coated apple richness and the muscular lineage of classic machinery we are urged to look closer. He takes your hand through his journey in his world, through the glamour and the sublime, always tempting, and we are left wanting more.
With Joy’s recommendations, my journey pushed forward into the high desert. I once spoke with a spiritual mentor many years ago, he told me tales of tribes long ago and how there was only one medicine man per tribe. To seek out this medicine man, was a rarity in itself. The medicine man would emblaze his magic upon the seeker with incense and ethereal symbols that free the soul and in some ways, heal. That is the connection I shared with artist Bret Philpot. To mention Bret Philpot, many locals would reminisce of his impact as a magician of constant visuals. A canvas is his doorway and he is letting you in on a miraculous journey without pulling any punches.
It’s as if I befriended Willy Wonka himself, only way better looking. Represented by the Red Arrow Gallery in Joshua Tree, Bret has produced some of the most unique works one has yet to witness. The “Mandala” series of paintings call to a time of both the instinctual and the tribal, and continue to pull us from across a room. I stood before his work and began to sway, my perspective became almost torrent and I knew it wasn’t heat stroke. With Bret Philpot you feel as if you are seeing his work for the first time again and again.
I leave my week of research both complacent and inspired. Often there are no words to categorize an artist. My journey led me to these upstanding artists who each shared a variance in a story of the self, but always remained in tune with their senses. Perhaps there is an artist in each of us. Perhaps there is a long overdue sense of celebration of who we are. After finding these artists, as I sat with soy latte in hand, lacking GPS and wondering where an art supply store was, I solved the mystery of the muse. There are muses to every artist, exceeding our beliefs and constantly challenging us in so many ways. They may take many forms, be it medicine man or debonair bon vivant, but they share the thread of inspiration. Muses don’t just pop out of a cement wall like in Xanadu. These artists have shown a ‘closeted painter’ such as myself, that it is a freeing experience to come out of the proverbial artists’ closet.
No muse is out of touch, for I have found a muse within each of these individuals, and if you are ever downtown, be sure to look for them and know that inspiration is everywhere, in all forms. After all, you have to believe you are magic and anything is possible in Palm Springs.
Philip Wayne is a freelance writer. He hails from Los Angeles.
This article originally appeared HERE.