Whimsical art coming to city’s Swim Center may also inspire courage as it welcomes visitors

Plenty of children have taken the plunge at the Palm Springs Swim Center, but soon the facility will welcome its first tot.

“TOT” is the name artist Richard Becker applies to a series of sculptures he creates in his San Diego studio. They depict a young boy contemplating what may be his first leap into the unfamiliar waters of a swimming pool. On Monday, a tot will be installed at the Swim Center in preparation for a formal unveiling Tuesday at 10 AM.

Becker, whose early sculptures were classically anatomical — including busts on display at the Television Academy Hall of Fame — turned toward more whimsical creations following restored hearing after a cochlear implant in 2014. His work caught the eye of the city’s Public Arts Commission when he was a Commissioner’s Choice selection at the 30 X 30 Public Arts Show in 2019.

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That show featured 30 ideas for public art in Palm Springs. “TOT” will be the fourth piece commissioned by the city from an artist featured at that event, and the 12th piece of art to be placed within the confines of Sunrise Park. The $18,000 cost of acquiring the art and installing it comes from the City of Palm Springs Public Arts Fund.

“I was very intrigued by these tots,” said Palm Springs Public Arts Commissioner Russell Pritchard. “For me, it’s the combination of the materials. It’s the whimsicalness of the piece and also the materials. It’s stainless steel and uses automotive paint. There’s the shiny stainless steel and then a really, ‘wow!’, pop of color. It’s a marriage that’s meant to be.”

“I love the brightness of stainless steel, how it reflects the light,” Becker told the San Diego Union-Tribune prior to a showing of his work in 2018, explaining that the tots, bald-headed boys wearing swim trunks and goggles, were inspired by a commissioned piece of a “goggled-eyed kid” he named “Queen of the Sea.”

At 42 inches high (including its base), the Palm Springs tot is on “the smaller side,” Pritchard said. But it may offer a big message.

“It’s not just about fun,” Sonya Sparks, a San Diego gallery owner who hosted Becker’s work, told the Union-Tribune about Becker’s tots. “But there’s also a quality of bravery, about going forward.”

David Cerny’s “Babies” in Downtown Palm Springs.

Moving the city forward and making it think about the bigger picture is exactly what Pritchard said he hopes the Public Arts Commission will be able to accomplish in the years to come.

“We want to turn Francis Stevens Park into a social issues park,” Pritchard said. “Whenever a rally happens, that’s basically where it happens. We’d like to do an installation that can change to address social issues that arise.”

The timing for that type of forward thinking about the purpose of art in the city is now, Pritchard said. He pointed to the fact the George Floyd mural along North Indian Canyon Drive become a rallying point during the cries for justice that followed Floyd’s death, and that David Cerny’s “Babies” — 10 fiberglass sculptures in a pit near the Palm Springs Art Museum — are often the subject of wonder by locals and visitors alike.

“Were in the fortunate situation here in Palm Springs, where it’s coming out of the old guard thinking that everything needs to be beige and ‘oh my god’ we cant do this or cant do that,” he said. “The younger generation is welcoming ideas like ‘Babies’.”

WHEN & WHERE: The dedication of “TOT” will take place at 10 AM on
Tuesday, December 21, in front of the Palm Springs Swim Center, 405 South Pavilion Way.


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