Imagine taking a leisurely drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs and as the scenes roll by your car window, you see art everywhere you look.
But the images are not of the sun-drenched beach or crowded tourist attractions that define Southern California for many residents and visitors.
They are moments of noir beauty and mystery in unexpected places and solitary things, instead. A raven glides overhead; taillights wink in the shadows of an overpass; an interstate exit sign beckons drivers to new adventures.
They are images so deeply ingrained in daily life and the region’s driving culture that the casual observer might easily miss their artistic significance — unless artist Eric Nash is behind the steering wheel.
“I’m interested in singular, everyday, universal types of moments,” said Nash, 47.
It’s an interest that art enthusiasts share. The buyers of Nash’s artworks range from 15 to 80 years old, he said. They’re students, business owners and Hollywood heavyweights such as movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer, actress Hillary Duff, movie star Orlando Bloom and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres.
Nash rarely draws or paints people in his work, to enhance the viewing experience for observers.
“If you’re looking at a piece I want you to be in it,” he said. “You’re experiencing this moment.”
Nash has impeccable technical ability and a talent for creating visual stories that draw viewers into his work, which set him apart from other artists, gallery owner Stephen Archdeacon said.
“There’s substance to the subject matter,” he said. “Even though it’s visually pleasing, it’s not just pretty. There’s something beyond it.
“With black and white he has an ability to be dark as in eerie, or a dark sense of humor, but it’s not heavy and overwhelming,” Archdeacon added.
Nash’s skull series is one example of his ability to find lightness in what’s traditionally dark subject matter. He considers his skulls “stand-ins for people,” and has painted each with a unique expression. The series was inspired by portraits of Iraq war casualties he saw in the New York Times.
His other artistic influences include artists Edward Hopper, Ed Ruscha and Andrew Wyeth, whose work is on exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum.
But Nash’s affinity for iconography dates back to his career in advertising. At about age 30, he was dabbling in furniture design and graphic design in Chicago when he grew “tired of being poor” and “got a regular job.”
He started as a clerk at Crate & Barrel and quickly rose through the ranks at ad agencies. In seven years, he was promoted to junior art director, then art director, vice president and creative director.
“I decided I was going to go for the gold,” he said.
Nash was earning a lot of money, but he hated the work. He had grown up around artists and art educators in Champaign Urbana, Ill., and had his first art lesson at age 4 or 5. Though he was creating art in the advertising world, it was more sensational than what he wanted to do.
“It was like I was an actor,” Nash said. “I felt like it was a performance piece.”
He longed to return to his artist roots and about 14 years ago seized an opportunity to do so. He was vacationing in Palm Springs with his partner, interior designer Mark Rose, when they decided to buy a place to use as a getaway.
After moving to LA they increasingly were drawn to Palm Springs’ sensuality, open spaces and friendly people, Nash said. The desert became their main residence 12 years ago.
“This place allowed me to get back to art,” Nash said about Palm Springs. “This is so inspirational.”
To see Nash’s work, go to his website at ericnashart.com or visit the Stephen Archdeacon Gallery, 865 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. (760) 673-7520
IF YOU GO
What: Mise En Scene: A Showcase of Cinematic Art Benefitting CASA Riverside County. This show of cinematic and celebrity photographs includes images of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Steve McQueen, Elizabeth Taylor and artist Eric Nash’s “Hollywood 101.”
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7
Where: Stephen Archdeacon Gallery, 865 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
Information: (760) 673-7520