Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pepper Wagner and Rik Livingston

It was a hot, unusually humid desert day when I made my way out to Pepper Wagner's "Tile Art and Design Works."  You will find her place about 12 miles north of Yucca Valley on Old Woman Springs Road.  Wagner is a tile mosaic artist who has been in Landers since July of 2008.  She and her partner Ron moved here from Desert Hot Springs where she had a gallery for three years.  Wagner has been doing tile mosaic since 1998 or 1999.  She had worked professionally as a tile cutter and setter in Ohio, where she is from.  One day, she was doing a job for a jewelry store, and there was a section where she had to do an unusual cut to fit the space.  The tile she cut ended up looking like the logo for the jewelry store, which was diamond-shaped.  This moment was an epiphany for Wagner, when she realized she could use a wet saw to cut different shapes in tile.  That was what started her on her first piece of tile mosaic art.  That first piece came with her to California.
In addition to her own original designs, Wagner also does commission work.  She enjoys doing both, but what she loves about commission work are the challenges presented by creating a piece specifically for one person.  There are times when people will bring their own materials (special rocks or pebbles) for her to use in the commission piece.  Pepper started doing murals because she wanted to create a peaceful setting - one of her favorites is a piece called "Beach House" that she did because she desperately wanted to go to the beach.  Once she had created it, she hung it on her wall and could "go to the beach" whenever she wanted.  (Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of that piece.)  Wagner has a strong design sense, but what really struck me about her work was the dimensional qualities it has.  Many of her pieces resemble bas-reliefs, with the rocks she includes protruding out from the surface of the piece.  She will also use pebbles, stained glass, and stones in addition to the tile to create the finished pieces.  Wagner's partner Ron is also a tile setter, and he helps her with the logistics of her art: building frames, arranging shipping and hanging for each piece.  Wagner shows her work at Bob Williams Nursery in Indio and Cabot's Museum in Desert Hot Springs.  You will also see a great deal of her tile work if you ever visit The Pepper Tree Inn, located in Palm Springs.  Of course, putting this venue on your agenda for the October Hwy. 62 Art Tours will be the best way to see this talented artist's work, and meet her for yourself.  Pepper Wagner will be showing on the second weekend of the art tours this year.

My next visit brought me a bit closer to downtown Joshua Tree, to Zono Art Productions.  Livingston and his wife, Cat Livingston, share their charming home with two cats, Mysterio and Rocket.    Livingston and his wife have lived in the desert since 2006.  At first, they were part-time residents, spending the other part of their time in San Francisco.  In 2008, the recession propelled them into becoming full time residents of Joshua Tree.  Livingston has always been an artist, despite coming from a mid-western family with no other artists to influence him and no real connection to the art world.  Art was just an innate part of him.  He earned a BFA from Wichita State University and an MFA from the Art Institute in San Francisco.  He was able to get scholarships to help him pay for most of his art education, but he also worked as a picture framer to help pay the bills.  Despite having a family who didn't really understand his drive to pursue art, he continued to follow the path of a true artist.
Livingston applies the "Vulcan Neck Pinch to Rocket.  (Rocket loves it.)
Southwestern Surrealism by Livingston  "Desert Angel."

Livingston has made a career as an artist by not only selling paintings and fine art, but also by doing graphic design and graphic art.  He also taught art for a while.  While living in San Francisco, Livingston became involved in Whitney Young, Inc., which is an organization promoting child development for young children in San Francisco.   He ran a 5,000 square foot art gallery as part of his involvement in Whitney Young, Inc. for three years.  The gallery had nearly a hundred artists involved, and Livingston was the Art Director.  Livingston found that the responsibilities of the gallery left him little time and energy to devote to his own work, and moving to the desert provided him with the change he needed to pursue art full time once more.
A wall of collectibles and memorabilia in Livingston's studio.

Livingston is inspired by comics and advertisement, and considers his work to have a strong retro flair.  Color and humor are both important to him.  In times past, it seemed like people had a strong focus on the future - it held hope and the potential of space travel and other exciting innovations.  This element is strong in his Zono art.  His distinctive and light-hearted style does go through changes without losing its overall character and feeling.  Seeing so much of his art hanging throughout their home does give a person the feeling of being transported, and anyone who enjoys a humorous take on life will enjoy Livingston's art.  Livingston shows his paintings and assemblage at Woods in the Desert Gallery, The Art Queen, and Hwy 62 Art and Antiques.  To meet this visionary artist in person, however, your best bet will be to make this a stop on your Hwy 62 Art Tours this year.   Livingston is planning to offer a line of cards, books and refrigerator magnets in addition to his paintings and assemblage this year for the Art Tours.  Don't miss it!

written by Karine Swenson


Anonymous said...

Great mosaics. Just beautiful!

Zach Trenholm said...

Terrific introductions on both artists---one who i know!