The desert is revealed through the CSUN art gallery

Kristopher A. Fortin

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"North Star" by Michael C. McMillen is an interactive experience where viewers get the feeling they are in a drive-in theater. Photo Credit: Hannah Pedraza / Photo Editor

"North Star" by Michael C. McMillen is an interactive experience where viewers get the feeling they are in a drive-in theater. Photo Credit: Hannah Pedraza / Photo Editor

"View From My Window" is seen on display at CSUN Art Galleries as part of the Arid Eden exhibit. Lauren Richardson, one of the two artists featured in this exhibit, painted this oil on canvas in 1983. Richardson created the desert-themed series over a 25 year period. Photo Credit: Hannah Pedraza / Photo Editor

"View From My Window" is seen on display at CSUN Art Galleries as part of the Arid Eden exhibit. Lauren Richardson, one of the two artists featured in this exhibit, painted this oil on canvas in 1983. Richardson created the desert-themed series over a 25 year period. Photo Credit: Hannah Pedraza / Photo Editor

The desert has been a transformative place for civilizations, prophets, and even musicians. “Arid Eden,” the new art exhibit at the CSUN main gallery that opened yesterday, shows how places perceived as barren and lifeless can transform itself and people right before their eyes.

‘Arid Eden’ which takes its name from Richardson’s painting of the same name, exhibits a mixture of old and new work from Richardson and an interactive piece from installation artist Michael C. McMillan.

“I think people will be interested in this show because of the interactive piece of Michael’s, and paintings (from) Lauren,” said Interim Director Jim Sweeters, “It’s a good combination.”

Richardson lived in the desert with her then-colleague and fellow artist James Doolin, who eventually became her husband, for a year and a half in the 1980s producing paintings.

“There’s a quality in the desert that allows you to see clearly,” Richardson said.

Her landscape painting “View From My Window” is a horizontal three-panel painting done from her perspective when she is looking out of her window in her desert home. Her command of lighting allows her to emphasize certain colors in figures, like the lush green from the snake in the center of the painting, or the red tint for some of the mountains in the background.

“I often feel like my landscapes are like still life,” Richardson said, “(because) I’m putting emphasis on certain elements.”

Richardson said her most recent work is highlighted by lighter textures and themes that are dreamlike. She painted them all by memory, in contrast to her older works that were painted while still living in the desert.

“The passage of time changes things,” Richardson said. “We create a reality that comes through our memory.”

Her newest pieces, done in the last four years, contain similar figures from Greek mythology, like a man’s body with talons and wings, in the painting “Dream of Love.” Other figures are unaccounted for, like a woman ecstatically standing under rainfall, her legs covered in animal-like fur in the painting “Rain”, or a woman giving birth to a feline creature under moonlight in the painting “Dream of Birth.”

“Flood (Lost),” is the only painting that is a step out of the desert realm, yet not completely. The whole surface is covered in water, but as Richardson explains, it could be the image of what the surface used to look like before it became a desert, or what it might look like millions years later. “Maybe this was flat area of the desert that used to be ocean, which it once was,” she said.

A recurring dynamic in the paintings, though, is of an older man, who she said is her husband Doolin, and a younger woman, who is Richardson. Though Richardson admits that Doolin influenced the paintings, she doesn’t want the viewer to think the paintings are about her life with him.

“I’m not saying it’s not part of it, but that’s too limiting,” Richardson said, “It’s more than that.”

McMillan’s installation piece, “North Star” is an interactive piece that puts you into the realm of a desert drive-in theater.

“When you walk into ‘North Star’, it’s dreamlike,” McMillan said. “It takes you out of the gallery and puts you in another realm.”

The piece was first exhibited at Weber State University, Utah in 2008. It took months to craft the idea and complete it.

The name “North Star,” McMillan said, came from a trip out to the desert and seeing the sign of a defunct drive-in theatre.

“I remember going out to these things in the Mojave Desert (and what a) strange realm to see films in,” McMillan said.

“North Star” has a seating area within an open-aired shack. Overlooking the seating area are miniature white cars elevated by poles, giving the viewer the feeling they are sitting in a grandstand looking over cars coming to watch the film, McMillan said.

A 20-minute film will be projected onto one side of the room. The film, McMillan said, is filled with stills and moving images of “deep space, vintage film clips, desert landscapes, a whole spectrum of activity.”

The film doesn’t have any chronological storyline, McMillan said, but the viewer can craft his or her own story from it

“It really takes you on a journey,” McMillian said.

The show opened Aug. 24 and runs to Oct. 10. The gallery will be open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and Saturdays from 12- 4 p.m. and Thursdays from 12-8 p.m. There will be an artist talk opening day and a reception on Aug. 28 from 7-9 p.m.