Ace Hotel’s mural project brings ephemeral yet impactful art to the desert

The opening of Ace Hotel & Swim Club in 2009 was a pivotal moment for Palm Springs. As the first property of its kind in the area, the hotel quickly attracted a devoted following of young, creative folks heading to the desert for fun and relaxation, set to the tunes of poolside DJs spinning vinyl. Part of the draw is the constant creative experimentation that goes on at Ace Hotel properties (of which there are now five in the U.S., one in Panama and one in London). One such creative endeavor is Desert Gold, an annual festival at Ace Hotel & Swim Club during Coachella, with pool parties, live music and DJs. For the 2012 installment of Desert Gold, LA-based artist and designer Steven Harrington was invited to create a mural on the wall of the hotel’s Commune building. His instructive was to “create a mural that reflected his desert visions – images or colors or symbols that came to him with notions of the place,” says Kelly Sawdon, Ace Hotel Partner and Chief Brand Officer.


“Harrington is known for his playful, contemplative style that’s inspired by transcendent California mystique, so we knew he’d bring a bright, psychedelic element to Desert Gold,” says Sawdon. “The mural drew people into conversation about the piece as it related to their own unique desert festival experience, and it added a dimension of identity that was entirely unique to the place and time. We celebrate the collective in all we do and also time-based expressions of the creative spirit.”


Ace Hotel then decided to make the murals an annual occurrence, with the mural artists selected by Atelier Ace, the in-house pack of creative doers behind Ace Hotel. “Sometimes it’s as simple as work that strikes a bolt of lightning in our spirit or an artist we’ve been following for a while, and some of it is also reaching out to people whose goals and ideals push us to think and see in new ways,” explains Sawdon. “We tend to lean towards bold designs and colors that play with the landscape in contrast and complement. All the artists submit sketches, Pantone swatches — one year, an artist sent us a shot of a fruit cup as a color palette — scraps or inspiring song lyrics of their process and vision to Atelier, and together we dream it so.”


“One of the compelling aspects of the mural project is that when the time comes to paint over the current mural, the past murals continue to live on in the memories and photographs of the guests who viewed (and photographed themselves in front of) the wall. “It’s a backdrop people want to remember themselves in front of, or think of themselves as part of, like a Palm Springs Babe the Blue Ox,” says Sawdon. “And we will forever be fans of writing on walls.”

We asked all of the mural artists, past and current, to share some insight into their experience and process as part of the mural project.


Artist: Steven Harrington
Based in: Los Angeles, California
Mural year: 2012 during Desert Gold
Mural title: ‘WAYYY OUT’ A creative mind bend by Steven Harrington

How did you decide upon your mural design? What did your design process look like?

I had been creating these desert stories with the brand Generic Surplus. I was inspired by space, time, balance and graphic elements found in the California desert during both Coachella weekends. We came together with the Ace Hotel and wanted to celebrate the desert, and these stories we had been creating over the past year. It was about taking those stories and seeing how to present them to the world.

Will you tell us about the actual creation process on-site at Ace Hotel?

We made a super trippy installation inside the Co-Op at the Ace by pasting the walls from floor to ceiling. We translated a few elements onto the wall outside including; a ying-yang symbol, a space portal, and a psychedelic tee-pee into this large-scale mural that we painted on the building. The mural was painted over a three-day period with several assistants and plenty of water. We kind of underestimated the brutal desert sun come February in Palm Springs… But in the end it was totally worth it.  At the time, if I remember right, it was the first mural painted at the Ace Palm Springs location. It was a big deal at the time, so people didn’t know what to think and how to react, there was a lot of red-tape to get things signed off. But Alex [Calderwood, founder of Ace Hotel] stood 100% behind the wacky idea, and I remember how excited and happy he was once everything was finalized.

The piece was only supposed to be up for a week, but he liked it so much he extended it into several months.

Any other thoughts/comments related to your mural?

Big thanks to the Ace crew and everyone that helped make things happen.


ABOVE: Images of Steven Harrington’s mural, photographed by Brigitte Sire


Artist: Sage Vaughn
Based in: Los Angeles, California
Mural year: 2012 (in September, not during Desert Gold)
Mural title: no title

How did you decide upon your mural design? What did your design process look like?

Wanted to try dripping paint down the face of the wall….letting the surface dictate the line quality of each color.

Will you tell us about the actual creation process on-site at Ace?

So many drunk people watching me drip paint down a wall in the midday heat.


ABOVE: Mural by Sage Vaughn, photograph by Steven Preston


Artist: Erin Garcia
Based in: Los Angeles, California
Mural year: 2013 during Desert Gold
Mural title: Stack #1000

How did you decide upon your mural design? What did your design process look like?

I was already drawing arrangements of disconnected shapes but they were always in single colors. As soon as I was approached by Junk Magazine and Ace, I knew that I wanted this piece to be in multiple colors, so I worked on several sketches that were close to scale and eventually found a good combination and use of more than one color.

Will you tell us about the actual creation process on-site at Ace Hotel?

This was my first large wall and truthfully, I wasn’t exactly sure how to paint it. I did some parking lot sized sketches in chalk but the scale wasn’t looking that great. In the end I came up with this masking tape method where I outline the shapes with tape, paint over it, pull it, and then fill in the gaps. I actually still use a variation of this process for large installations.

Any other thoughts/comments related to your mural?

It was a great experience and such a good introduction to doing large pieces, big thanks to Ace and Junk Magazine for choosing me to be involved.




ABOVE: Images of Erin D. Garcia’s mural 


Artist: Aaron De La Cruz
Based in: San Francisco, California
Mural year: 2014 during Desert Gold
Mural title: “untitled”

How did you decide upon your mural design? What did your design process look like?

The design for the mural was influenced by the architecture that the hotel has. I wanted to keep the design calm and only use vertical and horizontal lines along with some circles that would have some color. As for the usage of color, I knew going into the project that I wanted to use some color and when I arrived on location I was amazed by how many Latinos worked and lived in Palm Springs (it was my first time visiting), so I then asked to go have some Mexican food (carne asada fries) and it hit me I wanted this wall to be a dedication to the people of the Ace staff. The colors I chose were taken from the palette of a cup of fruit you buy from a street vendor mostly found in Latino neighborhoods. As for a design process there wasn’t really any – I typically work in the moment when I work on murals [and] that process alone allows me to push myself and work.

Will you tell us about the actual creation process on-site at Ace Hotel?

Creating the mural was pretty straignt forward. I arrived one afternoon, walked around to meet the staff and had some food and secured supplies (one A frame ladder, a few colors of paint, a brush and ink and tons of water). It was HOT so I knew I wanted to start early in the morning and take a break when the sun was at its peak. I painted for two days from around 7 a.m. until noon and then from 6/7 p.m. until dark. After that it was time to get back on the plane and head home.

Any other thoughts/comments related to your mural?

The amount of emails and IG posts I receive just of the wall alone has been great. People have commented on the story about the choice of colors used and how they think that is meaningful to them and I enjoy that as well. I had a great time painting and just as much being [reminded] of the process thanks to social media and the good folks at Ace.


ABOVE: Images of Aaron De La Cruz’s mural; full mural photographed by Brandon Shigeta, wedding couple in front of mural by Steve Cowell 


Artist: MOMO
Based in: New Orleans, Louisiana
Year: Upcoming during Desert Gold 2015
Mural title: no title

Have you decided upon your mural design? What does your design process look like?

I work on designs for long periods of time, sometimes borrowing unfinished parts from previous murals or paintings. I’m probably not doing it right because it’s really tedious. Then I scrap most of these designs for new ones when I get to the wall and can see first-hand what the situation is like. For Ace, I’ll try a new technique, of scribble lines from buried masking tape.

Any other thoughts/comments related to your mural?

I’m looking forward to doing something in California. I grew up there, I think the desert is beautiful, and I’ll be coming from Belgium so your weather should be inspirational.



ABOVE: Murals by MOMO in Washington, D.C. (top) and Niort, France (bottom)


And now, see below for a peek at MOMO’s mural in process right now at Ace Hotel for Desert Gold 2015! We’ll update with additional images and the final work once it’s completed.








UPDATE: See below for images of the completed mural!




Ace Hotel & Swim Club
701 E. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs


Leave a Response