How living in the desert gave new life to Melissa Lakey's mixed-media art

Visual artist and illustrator Melissa Lakey found the High Desert of California the perfect environment and inspiration for her work, which is about to go on show in the town of Joshua Tree.

There's been a long tradition of creatives congregating around big cities, excited by their cosmopolitan nature and cultural energy. But sometimes, going to the opposite extreme can be more fulfilling. And that's certainly what Melissa Lakey found after moving to Joshua Tree, a small settlement located in the High Desert of California, USA.

"Moving to the high desert in 2015 brought me back to art after a long hiatus," she recalls. "The wide open spaces, the expanse of the sky, the sunrises and sunsets — it felt like there was space in my life to explore art again."

Her colourful figurative, and landscape-based work celebrates everything she loves about this harsh but evocative environment. She's inspired, she says, by "the long purple dusk of summer nights, the way the air comes alive with the anticipation of rain, the starry skies, the hardy, magical plants and animals that thrive here."

Melissa uses various traditional materials, combining organic textures, fun colours and playful subject matter to create artwork that makes people smile. Her illustration clients include The LA Times, Compendium Live Inspired and Harper Wilde. And her artworks are held in private collections in the United States, UK, Germany, Australia and South Korea.

For Melissa, making art is about happiness. "I choose colours I love and subjects that make me smile: floating cowboys, three-legged pink coyotes, and roadrunners with grins on their faces," she explains.

Inspired by her desert surroundings, as well as a childhood of watching westerns and dreaming of becoming a cowboy, she works in gouache, ink, acrylics, oil pastels and coloured pencils, sometimes using all of these materials at the same time.

"I usually begin without a plan, so the painting surprises me as it emerges," she says. "Making art this way feels like exploring a desert made of dreams, filled with characters I'd like to meet from folktales that never existed. I hope my paintings will remind people of their happy memories of the desert and help them fall in love with it as I have."

Those who can get out to Joshua Tree – a two-and-a-quarter hour drive from Los Angeles International Airport – now have the opportunity to see Melissa's art up close and personal. Her new show, entitled 'A Desert Made of Dreams & Other Tall Tales', is about to open at the HeyThere Projects gallery, which is located near the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park.

Featuring colourful mixed-media paintings and drawings on paper, canvas, and wood, the show will be on display from 11 March through 6 April. Ten per cent of sales of original art from the show will be donated to Mojave Desert Land Trust, which works to protect the Mojave and Colorado Desert ecosystems and their natural, cultural, and scenic resource values.

A Desert Made of Dreams & Other Tall Tales is at HeyThere Projects, 61675 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252 from 11 March-April 6th 2023. There will be an opening reception from 6-9pm on 11 March.


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