Zone 0
Pet Store
Walking R Ranch
City Scapes
Eden Island
Sunkin Surrealism
Sci-Fine Art
Rev Riks Revelation
The Library
Zono Toys
ZAP! Grafikz
Comikz Shop
Stinkys Links

by Dean Gray

In the Desert

I moved to California to get my Masters in 1984, partially because of the reputation of the San Francisco Art Institute. But I had also picked San Francisco to live in because of it's mix of big city culture and small town geniality. By 2005, I had been living in San Francisco for about a quarter century, but, as it slowly "Manhattanized," I had been on the lookout for a new home that had that "big/small feeling." Cat, my then-wife-to-be, brought me to Palm Springs for the Tiki Oasis event, and then on to Joshua Tree to spend the Holidays with her family. I knew I had found an area that was small enough to feel homey, but special enough to draw tourists from all over the world and big enough to have a variety of cultural institutions and art interested population.

We were sort of part time SanFran/part time J-Tree for awhile, but made it full time as the Great Recession hit. It's been a bit of a bumpy ride, I guess, but, all-in-all, the desert has been good to me.

High Desert? OR Low Desert?

Cat and I have been "bi-level" for a little over a year now, with a full home/studio in the HiDez and a 1958 trailer, with a basic "electric studio," at Sam's Spa (out in Sky Valley) in the LoDez. With the current drop in Coachella Valley real estate prices, we are selling the swell, little 50s' trailer and buying a "real" house! We're going to adjust our living arrangements a bit, but plan to continue to be "Hi-Lo."

Both Hi and Lo have terrific art scenes! I'm going to continue to show at the 29 Palms Art Gallery, Woods in the Desert Gallery in JT, and HooDoo in Yucca Valley, while looking for those special, adventuresome galleries who are good at representing someone like me in the "Low Desert Empire."

What most pleases you about the desert?

Well, since it is such a great area for tourists to visit, the arts are probably as vibrant here as any metropolitan area. Beyond that, though, I've really been excited by the SKY! You have to remember, I spent 25 years or so under a blanket of fog! All of a sudden, my art is full of these sunrises and cloud formations!

Desert Annoyance

I guess a continuing annoyance has to be those ubiquitous little "Goat Head" sticker plants. (But I have to admit they have pretty purple flowers.)

Weather (or heat) Affects Productivity

My wife has decided I'm part lizard. I forget to turn on the air conditioning until it's 110º or so! I have noticed that I've had to adjust my painting a bit when using acrylics, though, because they dry much faster here than in SF.

A healthy amount of Rik's work has helped local community events (Arts Council) organizations (Harrison House) and causes like the High Desert Coalition which won the war against the LA Dept of Water and Power.

I also have recently done work for Youth Art Month, Joshua Tree Gay Pride, "They're Not Green" (an environmental documentary), a few images for the National Parks Conservation Association and I curate the art at the Joshua Tree Library. I just finished a comic tract, written by Aaron Mueller, that teaches people in Haiti how to make fuel efficient stoves so they won't continue to deforest their land. I was previously as involved in the community in San Francisco, too.

Generally speaking, I'm what is now-a-days called a "Pervasive Artist," meaning I make art for galleries, but I also create graphic art and illustrations. However, I only work for companies/institutions that I believe in, or, at least, don't have apprehensions about, so I kind of naturally graduate toward "good causes." The nearest I've ever come to making art for something I didn't support, was some illustrations for Sprint cell phones: I'm not a particularly big fan of cell phones, but I got to paint one of the ads in the Pointillism style of Seurat and the other was an Adobe Illustration rendering in the cut paper style of Matisse. Since the ads promoted fine art, it tipped the scales in favor of my taking on the project.


Well, I suppose it's no secret to anyone who's read my early underground/alternative comix stories (Published under the nom-de-plume "Mr. Verlin"), that I ingested a few herbs and hallucinogens. I don't know if I'd go so far as a blanket recommendation for everyone, as there certainly seems to be different effects for different folks, but, for me, it helped reawaken my sense of wonder and made me take notice of the profundity of life, at a time when I was somewhat in jeopardy of losing my self in order to "fit in." I can't say they made me an artist, but they helped me remember I all ready was.

Inspiring Passions

Hmmm. My wife, my family, home, my cats, green tea in the morning, chocolate, nature...I could kind of keep going here, counting my blessings, with a list that would fill up the rest of your paper, but let's just call it "the joy of life." Really, what I create art about is just my immediate surroundings, but explored metaphorically and in depth, because I'm more able to express the awe and adventure of what existence means to me, personally, that way. I think people have related to it so much because, well, it's FUN, and "happy is contagious."


I have a lot of art that I traded for or bought, mostly from the artists that exhibited at the Whitney Young Cultural Center Mansion, where I was the Art Director, right before we moved south. As well, our homes are decorated (I should say "curated") in theme rooms, with vintage furniture and a lot of knick knacks reflecting those themes. I was once a toy designer and have an overly large collection of toys, both mine and others. There's many books, mostly in the genres of art, romance, fairy tales/mythology, sci-fi/fantasy and westerns. Music, movies and, oh yeah, over 17,000 comic books. As you can imagine, moving is not an easy task for us...

Inspirations and Futures

Well, I was raised in very small towns on the prairies of Kansas, so I don't think I was even in a gallery until I visited Chicago on a school trip. Most of my early inspirations were comics and paperback book covers. You can still see a lot of that in my work. But, y'know, I see a lot of it in other Pop Surrealists from LA and NY, too, so it may just be that the time was ripe for that.

Since I lived in such a remote location, (you have to remember this was before cable or the internet), I was ridiculed and laughed at, mostly, when I said I wanted to be an artist. I went to college to become an art teacher because pretty much the only artists I had ever seen were teachers. Nothing wrong with that; I've taught at two colleges and a few other places in San Francisco. But, for most of my life so far, I've been lucky enough to survive and even prosper, actually making art. Dreams do come true.

The Whimsy

Whimsy should always be taken seriously! Play and imagination are important evolutionary survival skills. I seriously feel that my art has the ability to awaken spiritual and mental functions in human hearts and minds that are in danger of being deadened by the fear mongering, cynicism and toil of the prevailing paradigm. So, dear readers, after you're through with this paper, hop on the internet and head for There's lots of images there. Just meditate a few minuets on them and see if they don't "freshen your eye" and raise your spirits just a bit!

And thank you very much for this opportunity to make art for you, South CA! I'll try to be worthy of it!


American Free Journal & Desert Valley Star - 06/02-08/2011