Artists like Phillip K. Smith III drawn to the atmospheric glow of the desert

A golden glow bathes the late afternoon desert, bathing the landscape and telling us that the spectacle will soon sweep the sky: an ethereal band of colors ranging from dark purple to radiant pink that lulls us into the twilight. My partner, Edgar, and I climb onto a raised rock off one of our favorite trails in Joshua Tree National Park and watch, in silence, as the day dissolves, our muscles relax and our minds wander .

“It’s a John Hilton sky,” he says, breaking the silence to draw a comparison to the late artist’s luminous paintings of desert landscapes, this one with cotton candy pink clouds reminiscent of the oil “Desert Fiesta” from 1964. We often call the names of the first landscape painters whose work comes to mind when we admire views during hikes and walks in low and high deserts – the unmistakable glow of Fernand Lungren ; Lockwood de Forest’s subdued, brooding color palette; James Swinnerton’s sun-drenched trees of ironwood and smoke.

Beginning in the early 20th century, these painters and others began a trajectory of artists using different media to depict the boundless landscape and distinctive light of the Californian desert. They were interested in optical and perceptual qualities, of course, but also in the search for meaning and the stimulation of emotional responses.

In his seminal book Our Arabiaauthor, traveler and photographer J. Smeaton Chase says, “Nowhere but in the desert will you experience what I would best call the spirituality of color, the beauty in the hues of sunset if extreme that it affects someone with a sense of pathos, even solemnity. , like the innocent blue of childhood eyes.

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