San Bernardino

Getting Lost in the Arid Expanse with Diane Best

I first met artist Diane Best when I was traveling back and forth to the communities of the High Desert to do research for my Jackrabbit Homestead project. Best and another local artist, Mary-Austin Klein, were organizing an exhibit of their work at a small gallery space in 29 Palms that also dealt with the claim shacks as subject titled, "Shack." Although primarily known as a contemporary landscape painter, Best was showing instead a collection of dramatic black and white photographs of abandoned homesteads in the same vicinity that I was documenting the structures for my own project. Several people I had interviewed suggested that I get in touch with these two women to compare notes, thus initiating a warm friendship with the both of them that has continued throughout the years.

"Shack 39," giclee archival pigment print, mounted on dibond, 35 x 46 inches.

Kite photo of Mustang Cabin at Rattler Ranch, Joshua Tree. | Photo: Doug Beale.

Dream desert view from Chickasaw Homestead, Rattler Ranch, Joshua Tree.

During my research trips out to the area before I moved out here, I would regularly stay at one of Best's Rattler Ranch desert Bohemia-styled vintage vacation cabins located in a 5-acre hillside expanse of south Joshua Tree. Here, at her art studio located in the adjacent ranch house, I was introduced to her sublimely timeless desert panoramic landscapes that captured the lovely transcendental light so prevalent in the arid high desert extremes of the Mojave. It was apparent that these paintings were obviously created by someone who had spent countless hours in careful observation of the desert and that they were psychically attune to the nuances of light and shadow that moved across the ancient arid expanses.

Mustang Cabin (kitchen), Rattler Ranch, Joshua Tree.

"Stovepipe Wells Dunes, Death Valley, CA 1," acrylic on canvas, 14 x 72 inches.

"It also never ceases to amaze me that, as heavily populated and built up as Southern California is, that there still remain these vast areas of open wilderness and desert where you can drive miles and miles of dirt roads, and see no one for days, if you choose not to. The importance of keeping this kind of experience (of being alone, in a meditative state, in unpopulated oceans of desert, actually being able to see and ride 'off into the distance') protected and available to the public is an overriding motivation for me in my work - hoping to convey a sense of this to those not living in the middle of it."
-Diane Best

"Dune, Death Valley," acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 inches.

Best's monumental and detailed landscapes convey a command of her medium without being overly fussy. They suggest an observant artist who is truly aware and in love with her surroundings. The works reference earlier American landscape painting traditions, including the Hudson River School with their similarly epic stylistic grandeur and execution. Her painting oeuvre also includes a more playful landscape illustration style that echo back to her training as an animation background painter in Hollywood. This body of work -- which has appeared on t-shirts promoting the local Joshua Tree Music Festival, t-shirt for the Desert Institute, Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce logo, advertising materials for the Mojave Desert Land Trust and more recently a large-scale scarlet red wall mural at Joshua Tree's gourmet pizza establishment, Pie for the People -- is presented in a quirky gestural rendering style celebrating the strange and wonderful emblematic Joshua Trees and surrounding rock formations.

"Pie for the People" wall mural (in progress).

Indeed, Best personifies the creative spirit found throughout the High Desert, but especially in Joshua Tree proper. She has been a vital multi-talented creative force here of years now; after moving to Joshua Tree from her off-the-grid home in a remote section of land high in the mountains above Pioneertown, Best opened the tiny Rattler Ranch café in 2003 serving up artisan sandwiches, salads, and other gourmet delights at a rustic storefront now doing business as Ricochet. The café provided a casual meeting up place in town where you could enjoy a meal or libation served up by Jessica of Gram Rabbit fame or Best herself.

By 2007, deciding to spend more time painting rather than catering, Best sold the café and focused on refurbishing her vintage western-inspired vacation rental business popularly known because of her wonderful hospitality as a host, proprietor, and cook -- Best will on occasion cater an amazing meal for her guests inspired by a combination of Tex-Mex, Moroccan, and other earthy flavors. The interiors of her cabins exude the localized funky rustic/natural vintage style that the region has become known for.

ROAD TO MEXICAN HAT from Diane Best on Vimeo.

In recent years, Best has been focusing her talents on experimental, non-narrative digital films with which she continues to explore the landscape as subject. Specifically, these trance-like films meditate on various scenic vistas located throughout the southwest -- Mexican Hat Utah, the Painted Desert, Monument Valley, Death Valley, and various Mojave Desert locations, while traveling through space within an automobile. Incorporating the car windshield as a frame, the films place the viewer into a contemplative dream-like state of movement and perception. A carefully chosen music soundtrack with the likes of Black Mountain, The Black Angels, Gram Rabbit, and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, accompany the images. Best viewed as video installations, the films place the audience into the ultimate virtual roadtrip in the seductive southwestern expanses.

Diane Best is currently working on three-screen video installation titled, "No Destination," and new film/music collaboration with musician/composer Lucio Menegon. She is represented by BoxoOFFICE in NYC and Melissa Morgan Fine Art in Palm Desert.

(top) "Racetrack, Death Valley," acrylic on canvas, 24 x 72 inches, (bottom) "Sawtooths, Pioneertown, After the Burn," acrylic on canvas on board, 13 x 31 inches.


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About the Author

Kim Stringfellow is an artist and educator residing in Joshua Tree, California.
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The writing is overwrought. Someone loves the word 'arid.'

But the images are breathtaking. Diane Best rocks.

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