Painted Desert

Phoenix Art Museum honors the arid American Southwest

Home to the vibrant Sonoran and the golden Mojave, the arid American Southwest is famous for the stark beauty of its vast deserts. While people generally spend summers avoiding the desert wilderness of Arizona, this virtual visit takes us on a safe—and much cooler— journey through the unique, hard-scrabble environs that have inspired artists for centuries with a deeper look at some of the most beloved works in Phoenix Art Museum collection.


Neapolitan Cliffs (2011) by Arturo Chávez

San Tan Valley (2010) by Howard Post

The Flight into Egypt (19th century) by José Rafael Aragón

Egyptian Landscape (1891) by Elihu Vedder

From Point Sublime Looking ESE (2004) by Tony Foster

Arroyo Hondo (1935) by Victor Higgins

Before the Race- Fantasia or the Halt in the Desert (1867) by Eugene Fromentin

Egyptian Evening (c. 1911) by Carl Oscar Borg


Ed Mell: Bringing the Desert to the Stage

Sweeping Clouds (1989) by Ed Mell

One of Arizona’s most beloved artists and a particular favorite of Phoenix Art Museum visitors, Ed Mell is a legend of the Southwest. Known for his contemporary take on traditional landscapes, Mell creates unique artworks that take an almost geometric approach to vast vistas and sheltering skies.

Mell left his work in advertising to pursue his art full-time following an experience teaching art to Indigenous students on the Hopi Nation reservation. His process involves first photographing his landscape subjects—often from a helicopter—before creating his expansive paintings in his studio.

Canyon Angles (1992) by Ed Mell

In 2017, the world premiere of the opera Riders of the Purple Sage, the first original commission by Arizona Opera, featured custom scenic design by Mell. The opera was an incredible success, not only for its unforgettable score that brought to life Zane Grey’s legendary novel of the Old West, but for Mell’s digital landscapes, which transformed from scene to scene, creating a sense of mood and capturing the desert’s dynamic beauty in the contained space of the stage.

For more about Arizona Opera, visit

For more about Phoenix Art Museum, visit

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