For art’s sake


Dear Artist,

In 1905, in an effort to increase water flow for farming into Southern California’s Imperial Valley, engineers accidentally overflowed a bank of the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona. For two years, while repairs were made to the breach, the river flowed into a centuries-dry lake bed, forming the land-locked Salton Sea, about 64 miles southeast of Palm Springs.

Singer-songwriter Vera Sola prepares to perform at the fourth annual Bombay Beach Biennale on March 22, 2019.

Singer-songwriter Vera Sola prepares to perform at the fourth annual Bombay Beach Biennale on March 22, 2019.

Beginning in 1940, the sea served as a naval training base for seaplanes, then became an experimental testing site for plane-launched rockets, space capsule sea landings, sea target bombings and atomic weapons exercises, continuing as a base until 1978. Simultaneously, the sea became a 1950s resort destination — 360 square miles of fish-packed water, abundant migratory birds and sea life — a glassy mirror of desert sky and clouds, ringed by white sand. Bombay Beach, built on the Eastern shore, buzzed with bars and a yacht club where Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys would party at a marina crowded with boaters and holidaymakers.

The Toy House by Los Angeles-based painter Kenny Scharf (b.1958)

The Toy House
by Los Angeles-based painter Kenny Scharf (b.1958)

Soon, however, the lack of outflow, and subsequent instability of the water caused by agricultural runoff, raised the levels of salinity, algae, mercury and PCBs. Mass quantities of dead fish washed onto the beaches, whipping up noxious winds of decay. While alternatives for saving the sea were being discussed, the resorts emptied, leaving a post-apocalyptic environmental wasteland.

In 2015, three Los Angeles-based friends — a filmmaker, an art collector and a philanthropist — spent the weekend at the Salton Sea. With a remaining population of about 250, the tiny hamlet of Bombay Beach was now a marooned square-mile of burned-out trailers, small bungalows and lots with barking dogs behind chain-link fences, and the lake was receding to uncover an ecological disaster. The Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi and its principles acknowledge that objects and experiences are most beautiful when they evoke a feeling of spiritual longing, “nurturing all that is authentic by acknowledging that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect,” as Richard R. Powell wrote. To the friends, Bombay Beach did not just unsettle and confront as one of the poorest communities in California but also as a microcosm, an oracle, a canary in a coal mine and a site for re-imagination.

Photographer Lance Gerber photographs New York-based artist Tyler Morgan's untitled sensory installation.

Photographer Lance Gerber photographs New York-based artist Tyler Morgan’s untitled sensory installation.



PS: “It’s important to note that the ‘us and them’ component is pretty much dissolved. We are all locals now and active participants in the community.” (Stefan Ashkenazy, co-founder of the Bombay Beach Biennale)

“Never let go of the fiery sadness called desire.” (Matsuo Basho)

Esoterica: The volunteer-led Bombay Beach Biennale, having no financial agenda, ignores its name by being held annually, by invitation only, for 72 hours of art immersion. The beach and town is used as a site for artists to riff on the environment and its abandonment. To save the residents from being overwhelmed with visitors, the Biennial’s details, including the event’s actual date, are withheld until the last moment. Cruising the installations and performances, where no tickets or merchandise are sold and no money is exchanged, the artists beam at their caring for the discarded under a star-exploded, desert sky. For the most part, the original residents say they appreciate Bombay Beach’s new purpose. “It’s bringing the town back to life,” said an old-timer. “And that’s fine by me.”

Save me by Olivia Steele 2018

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. 

“There is such a spirit of the misfit here and a little Peter Panism. We’re inviting people to come and create and really manifest their dreams that they are not able to realize within the commercial art world.” (Lily Johnson White, co-founder of the Bombay Beach Biennale)



  1. “Never let go of the firey sadness called desire”.
    I love this quote Sara! As an artist ( and a human being) it resonates with my heart.
    Another good one in this same vain; “Tears are a river that carry us to another shore”. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
    We must learn to embrace our sorrow and often when Im painting, those tears inadvertently, and to my surprise, find a channel.

  2. Interesting bit of history, although I researched the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea for the first and last chapters of my novel “USING DROUGHT USA”, I never came across the story of Bombay Beach, if I had I would have included it. It’s story of pollution and the importance of water works right into the theme of the book. Perhaps, if I ever get around to editing it, I will include it….. Ian Duncan MacDonald

  3. Greetings! I am thinking about what brainlessly hellish human-monstrosities are able of doing…. still wondering whether we, humans have ever learned anything at all from each other? PLEASE LOOK AT THE SKY ON THE PHOTO by L. GERBER !!!! THIS “GEOENGINEERING” OR “WEATHER MODIFYING MILITARY “ACTIVITIES” ARE CONTINUOUSLY SPRAYING AND SATURATING OUR FORMALLY DEEP GORGEOUS BLUE SKY, CLEAN AIR, WATER, AND SOIL, with megatons of highly toxic metals and chemicals, Aluminum+Barium+ (it’s also called SOLAR RADIATION MANAGEMENT). Literally, this all DOES kill us and all Life on this suffering planet as we speak! The weather we experience nowadays is highly unnatural and fearsome and the geoengineering jets “ARTISTICALLY” create artificially “PAINTED” in the sky cloud-like formations… and the poisonous atmosphere is rapidly losing the ozone layer… NO LONGER You see formally deeply-blue skies and no brilliant stars at night !!!! I hope that artists who are still devoted to admiring Nature that is almost non-existent, join this site:

    • Douglas Newman on

      Sadly, your assessment is absolutely correct. We are all *part* of nature. Not separate from it. If we despoil and destroy nature, we despoil and destroy ourselves.

      We must realize, evolve, and do more to protect nature and ourselves from those who would do harm in the name of “progress” and “profit”.

  4. The earth has an amazing capacity for renewal. I wonder if we are stretching it to its limits. And, yes, we have learned something. A few of us anyway. We are slowly grasping the idea that limits exit. Living simply, however, has not gone viral yet.

  5. I wonder who decides what ‘living simply’ is. Therein lies the rub. Truly.

    My ‘knowing’ is that those whose earthly ‘job’ in their current incarnation will be to take care of the planet and the inhabitants on this sweet Earth will do so.

    We are here so briefly……….

    In Light & Love,


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Featured Workshop

The Power of Paint; Creating the WOW factor in your paintings with Dutch artist Carole Boggemann Peirson
April 10, 2019 to April 17, 2019


Location: between Puerto Vallarta & Mazatlan, Mexico


Week-long workshop in gorgeous paradise retreat for beginning and intermediate students in oils (or acrylics with experience). You will learn how to create a painting with beautiful light that captures viewers’ attention and keeps them fascinated. Small group size guarantees personal attention.


While you’re busy creating art and exploring, your friendly hosts at Casa Buena will ensure that your stay is memorable. Outstanding accommodations, food, and field trips will satisfy your desire for both comfort and adventure. Spouses are welcome!


For more info, visit: or contact Carole at: or call: 001-757-678-3340 (EST).
Oil on Canvas
48 x 48 in.

Featured Artist

Gardens are my enduring inspiration, and getting to the heart of the flower, my passion.


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