Thirty years ago, a group of visionary artists from Tierra del Sol Foundation opened the doors of the First Street Gallery Art Center in Claremont. Since then, Tierra and its hundreds of trailblazing artists have been in the vanguard, forging professional pathways while advancing the cause of inclusivity in the art world.
The Claremont Museum of Art exhibition Vanguard: Origins of Tierra del Sol Arts in Claremont featuring Helen Rae, co-curated by Rebecca Hamm and Paige Wery, represents 15 artists from the Claremont years whose remarkable creative expressions have influenced and enriched contemporary art in Southern California and beyond. The exhibition is generously sponsored by Sandy Baldonado, Alta Rancho Pet & Bird Hospital, and Susan Guntner.
Vanguard is co-curated by Rebecca Hamm, artist, educator and Director of Arts for Tierra del Sol, working with Tierra since 1990; and Paige Wery, past owner of The Good Luck Gallery (2014-19), publisher of Artillery Magazine (2007-13), and new Director of Tierra del Sol Gallery. Tierra del Sol Progressive Art Studios are now located in Upland and Sunland.
Featured Artist Helen Rae
Helen Rae, who is from Claremont, is one of the studio’s founding artists, joining it at the age of 50. Since then, she has become an internationally recognized artist with a prestigious list of accomplishments including national and international exhibitions, numerous publications and reviews, and a place in distinguished private collections.
In a 2015 Gallery Magazine feature on Rae, David Pagel, well-known art critic, educator, and curator, wrote, “Every square inch of her meticulously composed and vigorously colored-in surfaces is unique, distinct, singular. To look at her works is to know that you are in the presence of someone who sees the world anew every split second. That is thrilling. It’s also terrifying. And I, for one, am thankful that Rae has given me a glimpse of the world as she sees it.”
Helen Rae, born in 1938, has been producing art with Tierra del Sol Foundation’s progressive studios for adults with developmental disabilities for the last thirty years. Rae utilizes fashion magazines as a point of departure, elevating the source material to expose a world of momentous, subversive vision.
Composed using colored pencil and graphite, Rae creates dense, profoundly fractured drawings that are instantly recognizable and inescapably alluring. A bold use of color and sophisticated command of design culminates in a torrent of pattern and texture.
Helen Rae has been featured in Vogue and Vulture, among many other publications, and has received solo shows at The Good Luck Gallery, Los Angeles, First Street Gallery, Claremont, and White Columns, New York.
Artists of Tierra del Sol
Anthony Barnes has worked as a studio artist at the progressive art studios of Tierra del Sol since 1990. Barnes works from imagination and from life, forming strong graphic images in his artwork. His energetic style and use of powerful line is recognizable in both two and three-dimensional media. Barnes compositions range from images that knit together eclectic narratives to presentations of entrancing drawings of the banal. He works with a variety of media such as color markers, pencils, watercolor, ink, acrylic and clay to create works that are simultaneously mysterious and a delightfully light-hearted.
Barnes’ work has been exhibition continuously since 1990 and includes shows in Sacramento, Washington D.C., Scotland and Japan. His paintings have twice been selected by the San Gabriel/Pomona Regional Center for its promotional campaigns.
John Boyer, born in 1931 worked with the progressive studios of Tierra del Sol during his final years from 1993 through 2005. He grew up in Oregon and, after moving to Southern California as a young man, taught himself to draw. Boyer showed a mastery of composition and narrative in drawing and painting. He used vivid oil pastels, graphite, and acrylic paint to describe complex architectural landscapes. Interiors and exteriors were exposed simultaneously in rich compositions that center on an array of characters. Boyer’s characters exhibited similar features yet were distinguishable by unique costumes. Whether heads-of-state, religious icons, or Hollywood horror movie characters, his attention to detail and bold, colorful style revealed a strong storyline he was happy to share with the interested admirer.
Boyer’s work has been exhibited in many shows at the First Street Gallery, the studios of Tierra del Sol, and many art galleries and venues including the Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles, Club Nokia Los Angeles, and The Claremont Graduate University.
Mary Lou Dimsdale
Mary Lou Dimsdale has worked as a studio artist at the progressive art studios of Tierra del Sol Foundation since 2009. Mary Lou Dimsdale is a painter who knows no boundaries when it comes to creating. Pulling inspiration out of anything from her own imagination to everyday scenes, Dimsdale carefully composes each painting with unbridled confidence and familiarity. Her application of paint is patient and remarkably intentional, which is evidenced in the small brush strokes and thoughtful application of line. Initially in representational colors, she now approaches her work with an extraordinary level of interpretive, less expected hues. Playing with line, perspective, scale, and the careful modulation of color and brush stroke, she draws the viewer into her whimsical and playful world.
In 1989, Michael LeVell launched his professional art career when he began working with the progressive art studios of Tierra del Sol. LeVell immediately presented a natural ability to draw landscape, furniture and architecture in perfect perspective which is also present in the intricate ceramic sculptures he creates. His devotion to the magazine Architectural Digest appears to inspire LeVell’s creative process. He often references the magazine’s photo spreads in his own compositions which also include color palettes and repeated motifs of his own design. A few of his series have diverted from this by including figurative elements, and another group of works show a mysterious and delightful pattern of ovals interwoven throughout the composition.
LeVell is one of the original eight artists who helped found First Street Gallery and the studio arts programs in 1989. He was honored with a retrospective exhibition in 2014 to celebrate First Street Gallery’s 25th Anniversary. His work has been shown and sold around the world in such locations as Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, San Francisco and Japan. White Columns Gallery, NY, presented a 2018 solo show of LeVell’s with the CONDO Art Fair, presenting LeVell’s elegant paintings and ceramic sculptures which gained critical acclaim including the praise of Jerry Saltz, Pulitzer Prize winning art critic with NYMagazine. LeVell’s work has also been shown with the NADA Art Fair Miami and Felix Art Fair Los Angeles, courtesy of White Columns Gallery, NY.
Jackie Marsh has worked as a studio artist at the progressive art studios of Tierra del Sol since 2009. Marsh produces whimsical depictions of animals and flowers in painting, drawing and ceramics. In her two and three dimensional work, gestural mark-making is combined with a vibrant and loosely applied color palette to define her delightfully exuberant style.
In addition to being a studio artist, Marsh also teaches art classes at Upland Art Studios, the Joslyn Senior Center and other venues. Her work has been exhibited at such venues as the Chan Gallery, Pomona College, Claremont, California; California Baptist University, Riverside, California; Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California and Zask Gallery, Palos Verdes, California. When she’s not developing her art career, you can find Marsh at work providing compassionate care to the animals of local animal shelters.
Born in Los Angeles, California, John Maull has worked as a studio artist at the progressive art studios of Tierra del Sol since 2005. Maull’s work explores motifs which seem iconic on their surface but are based on idiosyncratic personal histories and experiences. His drawings include layers of floral patterns which border on abstraction through their repetition but also have references to Maull’s childhood home embedded in their imagery. In ceramics, he forms dogs and automobiles based on autobiographical references with colorful dripping and swirling glazes.
Maull has collaborated with internationally renowned artists such as Charles Long and Karen Kimmel and has exhibited his work across the United States.
Dru McKenzie has worked as an artist at the progressive art studios of Tierra del Sol since 1998. McKenzie’s signature style of thick contour lines is used to depict a menagerie of animals, portraits and mundane objects. Her bold stylized imagery and sense of color make strong graphic statements.
McKenzie has been honored with solo exhibitions at First Street Gallery Art Center and at the 24 Hour Gallery in Pasadena, CA. Her work has also been featured in exhibitions at The Good Luck Gallery, Los Angeles, California; Berenberg Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts; Gensler, Santa Monica, California; Bridge Gallery at City Hall, Los Angeles, California; Da Vinci Gallery, Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles, California; Art Enables, Washington D.C. and McKenzie was featured in an Artsy article by Doug Harvey, “10 L.A. Artists Whose Work You Probably Don’t Know—but Should”.
John Peterson has worked as a studio artist at the progressive studios of Tierra del Sol since 2013. Peterson is recognized for his unmistakable steeple-like ceramic towers and head sculptures. Peterson engages with the grid as a mode of abstraction in the least rigid of styles. Geometric forms and mark-making are contrasted by oozing glazes and sensuously rounded corners. He has also been expanding on this repertoire of elegantly odd forms through constant and adventuresome experimentation with surprisingly inventive results.
Peterson’s work has been exhibited at such venues as the Outsider Art Fair – New York, First Street Gallery, Claremont, California; Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California and Hellada Gallery, Long Beach, California.
Born in 1938, Rae has worked as a studio artist out of the progressive studios of Tierra del Sol since 1989. Her work, in colored pencil and graphite, is immediately striking for its vivid imagery and resonant use of color. Her drawings exude a strange power and sense of menace. Fierce or frightened-looking women, with distorted figures, often seem to be hiding or escaping in furtive dream-like adventures, emerging out of or disappearing into ornate floral patterns, shrouded in luxuriant foliage, or on the verge of vanishing into abstraction. Using fashion advertisements as a point of departure for otherworldly journeys into the unconscious, Helen holds up a shattered mirror to the source material, breaking down the images into something uniquely expressive.
Rae has had solo shows with The Good Luck Gallery in Los Angeles in 2019 and in 2015 and 2016. She has exhibited at The Outsider Art Fair in New York City and Paris and enjoyed her first solo show in New York City at White Columns in September 2017. Rae’s sudden emergence onto the international scene was named by Brut Force as one of the top six stories of self-taught and outsider art of 2016. One of her drawings has been reproduced by Exhibition A as a limited-edition print. Her work has earned her an Award of Recognition from the Artists Beyond Disabilities Exhibition in Pasadena, California and reviews in the Los Angeles Times, a Gallery Magazine feature by David Pagel, Art in America, Vogue.com, Gallerie Magazine, Art Absolument, Artnet, Artillery Magazine, Disparate Minds and The Creator’s Project (Vice) and critical acclaim by Pulitzer Prize winning art critic Jerry Saltz in NY Magazine.
Jose del Rio
Jose del Rio was born January 25, 1921 in Puerto Rico. He attended school in Puerto Rico to the 9th grade. In 1947, when Jose’s mother died, he moved to New York City to live with his sister and in 1980 relocated to California. From 1990, Jose worked at the First Street Gallery and Art Center three days a week. The other two days a week he worked as a gardener.
Jose was a self-taught artist whose colorful artwork reflects his culture, religion and humanitarian nature. Birds, flowers, fountains, the sun are drawn with bright color markers. The inclusion of inspirational words, love, peace, harmony, prosperity, appear in both Spanish and English. All of Jose’s work was made as a gift for someone whose name he inscribed on the composition.
Jose’s sister remarks that Jose had always been fascinated with birds and would spend hours outdoors admiring birds and the landscape. Jose’s work has been exhibited nationally. He was recently awarded an honorable mention for his work at the Ontario Museum of History and Art. One of his linoleum block prints appeared on the cover of the international literary journal, the Santa Monica Review. Jose del Rio died of liver cancer in December of 1992 at the age of 72.
Hugo Rocha has worked as a studio artist out of the progressive studios of the Tierra del Sol Foundation since 2007. Rocha’s recent work reinvents specific scenes he carefully selects from popular telenovela soap opera shows. Rocha’s narratively rich images employ his explosive use of color, expressive reinvention of the figure and intricately balanced compositional shapes which play with the viewer’s sense of depth. Rocha’s also creates perfectly balanced hand drawn typography to list names of popular singers, names of cities and map elements.
Rocha has exhibited his work in solo and group shows including Storytellers, Curated by Andreana Donahue and Tim Ortiz of Disparate Minds, at LAND Gallery, Brooklyn, NY and Summery Appeal, Curated by Doug Harvey, at The Good Luck Gallery, Los Angeles, CA and his recent solo exhibition at Tierra del Sol Gallery, Los Angeles.
Vicente Siso has worked as a studio artist at the progressive art studios of Tierra del Sol since 2012. Siso was born in Spain, grew up in Venezuela and studied in Miami and Trinidad. He produces work in a variety of media, including painting, drawing and ceramics. In clay, Siso creates whimsical vessels and creatures which are finished with exuberant glaze applications. In painting and drawing, he produces architectural landscapes and portraiture with experimental applications of perspective, patterning and color palette.
Siso has taught ceramics classes at the Joslyn Senior Center in Claremont and volunteered at the Blaisdell Senior Center in Claremont. His work has been exhibited at such venues as The Good Luck Gallery, Los Angeles, California; Lamperouge, Los Angeles, California; Special Olympics World Games, Los Angeles, California; Los Angeles City Hall Bridge Gallery, California; and California Baptist University, Riverside, California.
Isabel Vartanian works as a studio artist at the progressive art studios of Tierra del Sol Foundation. Vartanian recalls creating artwork from a very young age. The art books she had in her parent’s house there continue to inspire her to produce inventive and stimulating compositions years later. She has grown tremendously as an artist and is expanding the creation of her own, stunning artistic narrative. A gifted observer of the visual realm, Vartanian locates a rich plethora of imagery from her everyday life, stories she loves, her dreams and imagination. She rearranges and intricately weaves the subject matter together using pattern, vivid hues and distorted scale to realize her dynamic, intriguing and full compositions. Working in acrylic, watercolor and colored pencil, Vartanian’s application of medium is consistently bold, heavy and definite, creating wonderfully strong worlds for the viewer to enter and contemplate.
Joe Zaldivar was born in Rosemead, California and has worked with the progressive art studios of the Tierra del Sol Foundation since 2011. Zaldivar is known for his innovative use of Google Maps. Using his iPad as a reference material, he creates aerial view maps of locations around the world, often autobiographical, as well as street level renditions of the same locations using Google Maps Street View. The resulting works, which combine technology and perspectival architectural drawing in a style reminiscent of cartoon animation, twist time and space both spatially and conceptually.
Zaldivar has completed commissions for collectors and businesses across Southern California and exhibited internationally at such venues as The Good Luck Gallery, Los Angeles; Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, Ireland; Joshua Tree Art Gallery, Joshua Tree, California and The Storefront for Art & Architecture, New York City and the Biennial of the Image, Chiasso, Switzerland.
Tierra del Sol Foundation
At Tierra del Sol’s Career in the Arts programs, artists demonstrate that creativity and artistic expression are not limited by physical or intellectual challenges. Our Progressive Studios offer individualized opportunities so that all people can develop creatively and be recognized as cultural producers, community leaders and professional artists.
At the Progressive Art Studios of Tierra del Sol, individuals discover career opportunities, advance their skills and craft their own professional career path in the arts. These pathways include a blending of these 3 roles:
- An exhibiting artist with a strong studio practice of creating artwork, developing a portfolio and resume and exhibiting art locally and internationally
- An arts educator designing lesson-plans and leading classes and presentations
- A professional in Arts Management, including curation and exhibition design, and successfully developing and launching art businesses
In the summer of 2018, after almost 30 years in downtown Claremont, Tierra del Sol Foundation’s Career in the Arts programs expanded one of its progressive studios, the First Street Gallery and Claremont Art Center, by relocating nearby to a beautiful building in downtown Upland. Currently 100 artists are working out of Upland Art Studios and Sunland Studio Arts. Both studios present extraordinary shows and art events including open studios, art classes for the public, guest artist collaborations and up to 20 annual art exhibitions both in studio and throughout the region.
Last summer, the new Tierra del Sol Gallery opened in downtown Los Angeles as the First Street Gallery celebrated 30 years with its final exhibition. Already this year, the new Tierra del Sol Gallery, located in China Town, Los Angeles, has presented an exciting program of highly successful shows and is recognized on a global level.
Vanguard is co-curated by Rebecca Hamm, artist, educator and, since 1990, Director of Arts for Tierra del Sol; and Paige Wery, past owner of The Good Luck Gallery (2014-19), publisher of Artillery Magazine (2007-13), and new Director of Tierra del Sol Gallery. Tierra del Sol Progressive Art Studios are now located in Upland and Sunland.