The first time I met Delos was approximately ten years ago. I was with a friend who was interested in purchasing one of his pieces and she wanted to visit his studio space in Desert Hot Springs where he was located at the time. I tagged along to meet the artist, looking forward to seeing his steel and bronze sculptures and paintings. I remember him; a big guy, standing on a tall ladder, happily working on one of his pieces. He was warm, outgoing and excited to discuss his work. Fast forward to this past month when I met and interviewed Delos in his new gallery and studio space in Yucca Valley. He was as I remembered him; personable and passionate about his work. Open and honest, Delos is comfortable in his own skin; he enjoys discussing all facets of the artist’s life, both the business and creative side; and he has the experience, skills and success to back up his opinions. It was a joy to meet with him again.

Delos is a mixed media artist and sculptor who works in bronze, steel and wood ranging in size from pedestal to large, outdoor commissions. His current work focuses on large painted sculptures as well as wall sculptures in neo-modernism shapes and colors. He has an extensive resume; has had numerous solo and group exhibitions and is in both corporate and public collections. Please take time to look at his website, links and photos attached. Better yet plan a trip to visit his studio in Yucca Valley!

You were born in Washington State, grew up in Crescent City, California and received your B.A. at Chico State University and your M.F.A. from Mills College in Oakland. Is that correct?
Delos: Yes, I came from a Northwest logging family, I went to a junior college in Redding where I was a football player and then transferred to Chico State.  
Chico State was known as a “fun” school…did you have time to weld in Chico?

Delos: (Laughs) Yes…well…let’s just say, I had a lot of energy. I did learn to weld in school and I also had a few private lessons

Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

Delos: When I went to college I thought I could teach high school art and coach football. It was a reasonable goal at the time. I was the first one in my family to go to college and that was a big deal, so it was important to have an end game. But by my freshman year at Shasta College I knew I wanted to be an artist. I had a mentor at Chico State, Jim McMannis, who was tough, but the discipline was good for me. After leaving Chico, and a stint at substitute teaching and working in a grocery store, I applied for graduate school and was offered a great assistantship at Mills College in Oakland where I did my graduate work.

And after graduate school?

Delos: Well when you get out of college you realize they never told you how to have a career as an artist. During my college years I was often singled out but being told you’re great isn’t always the best thing.

Why do you say that?

Delos: Because it’s important to fight for it and because I had to make a living as an artist! I knew I couldn’t just make some esoteric things without a concern about selling them. So, for me, it was the wolf at the door that made me work hard to become a successful artist

And the work you were doing?

Delos: My work was influenced by growing up in the Northwest, surrounded by nature, the ocean, rivers and forests. I surfed year-round and it gave me a respect and awe for the forces of nature.

"Set of Nine";  16X16X2, painted steel

"Set of Nine"; 16" X 16" X 2", painted steel

"Chick-a-dee"; 12X12X6, painted steel

"Chick-a-dee"; 12" X 12" X 6", painted steel

Delos’ art career really begins in Sacramento. At the time, he had a body of work; cast bronze pieces but nothing was happening. He describes rejection after rejection. It was then that Delos and his wife, Jena, decided to move to Desert Hot Springs where Jena’s parents had a home. When they arrived, two letters were waiting for him in the mail box. One was from the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, congratulating Delos on winning the museum’s purchase award and one was from the Riverside Museum offering him a show based on his body of work from Sacramento. It appeared that the Desert Hot Springs move would mark a turning point in his career.

How did you like your move to Desert Hot Springs?

Delos: Desert Hot Springs was wonderful. It was quiet then and sweet and we didn’t have to deal with traffic during season or spring break. It fit the small town feeling I had come from.

How did your successful career evolve?

Delos: I didn’t wait for the galleries to make my career. I came to the desert and I did the art festivals, like the La Quinta Arts Festival and Jena and I would entertain at our home and invite people to see my work. I made a five-year plan…I wanted to make X amount of dollars the first year and then double that and double that. My work took off and soon I was in several galleries. Gallery Blu in Palm Desert was an example of that period. At the time, I was doing steel boxes with fractured corners. At first the owner put a piece of my work in the back of the gallery and said if there was interest he would move me forward. My work sold and soon he moved me up front. Before you knew it, I was bringing in more and more pieces and we had sell-out shows after sell-out shows. From there I got into more galleries and then collectors bought them, and they would bring in dealers. The art world is very good to you when it is very good to you and in time I was at a point where I had the space, the money, assistants and galleries waiting in the wings. At that point my financial needs were met and everything above that was gravy. My work was selling so fast I couldn’t keep up and my health suffered. I weighed too much; I was a walking heart attack. I realized I would need to make changes in how I controlled the production of my work.

"Seahorse"; 36"X13"X2", painted steel

"Seahorse"; 36" X 13" X 2", painted steel

40 "Rounds and Squares"

40 "Rounds and Squares"

But it wasn’t just his health that caused Delos to make changes, the economic crisis of 2008 hit at the very peak of his career. Many galleries were closed and artists in all genres sought new directions.

How did the crisis of 2008 effect your career?

Delos: The crash came and set everyone back; the galleries and the artists. But I am a survivalist. I pulled it all in and moved here to Yucca Valley. I had been based in a gallery system at that time and it worked very well for me then. I went to my studio, made work, shipped it out and drank champagne; that was life prior to 2008. Overnight is seemed everything changed. I not only changed my health habits, but I also changed the direction of my work and career.

What didn’t you change?

Delos: Well, I have always done well crafted work…quality, quality, quality and always with integrity. I wanted to do something fresh with the same craftsmanship.

Is that what you think about when you are in the process of making art?

Delos: No, but when you are making something you need to know how they will fit in a variety of environments…where is your customer going to put this or that…or that it might look good in a gallery but not in a home. You need to keep many things in mind. You may not necessarily think about that when you are working but at some point, it is there.

And the color palette?

Delos: Yes, the colors are new…neo modernism. They take me back to my childhood again; to Danish modern furniture, low sofas, the Seattle World’s Fair in 1961, Disneyland, Howard Johnson’s, girls in polka dot dresses and go-go boots, happy times of miniature golf and trampoline parks.

And how are you changing the way you market your work?

Delos: I am in limited galleries now and working primarily with consultants and people who bring in people.

 

As you know part of my intention in writing this blog is in discovering how artists transition during difficult periods….

Delos: Yes, well, I would say it’s all about the work. Some people have said to me, “Delos for you it’s all about business…being good at business…” But I say they are missing the point. For me it is all about the work. I have the hand of god philosophy which I liken to a pinecone. The pinecone’s leaves are all different but together there is perfect symmetry. It’s finding perfection in imperfection. It gives me a sense of humility and respectfulness, to accept life.

To make art is like accepting life as it is…

Delos: Yes, my goal is to be as I good as I can be. My goal is to create great art. I know I’m going to fail but it’s about the journey.

Many artists say that when they are working they feel they are almost attached to a force, a god…when one is totally in the zone.

Delos: Yes, at times I may be working on something and it turns out a certain way and I say…how did I do that?

And that’s the tingle?

Delos: Yes, that the tingle and then, just like that, it’s gone

So, we’re all in search of the tingle, I suppose. And what do you think aging has to do with all of this?

Delos: Well, what I don’t have in energy and stamina, I make up for in being smarter; a smarter worker. I don’t need to start over from zero in making contacts and I recognize there is no pie in the sky…it’s a tough business but it can be a great life.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to a young Delos just starting his art career?

Delos: I wouldn’t change anything. I worry about altering things. If you change one thing, another thing happens. I’ve had a great life so far and I’ve been very lucky, so I wouldn’t change anything.

You embrace change.

Delos: Yes, I’m not afraid of change. I want to continue to do work that reflects my time and culture.

Some scientific research says a creative brain isn’t necessarily particularly right or left but rather a combination of both…a successful artist needs both freedom and constraint; the freedom to create and the constraint to know when to stop. I believe I read somewhere you said something like that.

Delos: Yes, I did, and I agree. You can think you have a great idea and get excited about it, but the reality is it may not turn out the way you think it will. When I did my big Viscus series, I did 40 pieces in 18 months to get one painting I was happy with. Most people would have quit but I felt something was there. I was committed to them, so you need to have a sense of when it is right to continue and when to quit.

And what would you say to yourself at 80?

Delos: I would say, I hope you continue to work and to be healthy. I want the 80-year-old me to be doing new things…I want another run because things don’t get better than that!

 

"wishbone", 99"X66"X48", painted steel

"Wishbone", 99" X 66" X 48", painted steel

20 "Squares"; 5"X5"X2.5", painted steel

20 "Squares"; 5" X 5" X 2.5", painted steel

Close-up of a "Square"

Close-up of a "Square"

"Alber's Pyramids"; 24"X24"X6" each, painted steel

"Alber's Pyramids"; 24" X 24" X 6" each, painted steel

Untitled; 46"X51"X2", painted steel

Untitled; 46" X 51" X 2", painted steel

When I first communicated with Delos regarding the possibility of doing this interview, my first contact was with his wife Jena. When I described my project to her she said, “I can’t imagine talking to a better person than Delos regarding living a creative life.” Jena was right. Delos embraces the artists life with great passion. So, it is not surprising, that when I asked Delos if there was anything else he would like to add to interview...anything I might not have asked him... he said this:

“I met Jena when I was 32. I was single; she was 25, an ER nurse and I was till waiting tables. I lived down in a district with drug dealers and prostitutes on the street, I had a 63 Bonneville convertible that didn’t run, and I said to her, “What are you doing with me? You’re used to dating surgeons...How would that work with me”? And she said “Oh, I’m not worried about you Delos, you’re the most ambitious man I’ve met” And I said, “what”? And she said, “Delos, I’ll be fine as long as you don’t quit being an artist...as long as you don’t give up!” “So now she created this and I have to live up to this. She is the smartest woman in the world and there is no way I will ever let her down”.

And he hasn’t. Delos is authentic and truthful in his creative work and speech.   I hope from this interview you get a sense of the man and his amazing body of work.

To view more of Delos Van Earl's work please visit his website at: www.delosvanearlstudios.com

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