There’s a good reason the cactus prevails as the subject in paintings by Zachary James Fleming-Boyles: “I’m fascinated by the ease at which they could be propagated, and I consider them a symbol of resilience,” he says. “I render my paintings in bright, highly saturated colors suggestive of reality to impart a sense of hope, joy, and wonder in response to my observations of the natural world — something in which I find solace during these uncertain, isolating times.”

Fleming-Boyles, furloughed from his job as an art educator at Palm Springs Art Museum, is home in Palm Desert painting his Quarantine Cactus series. His first canvas, Frey, earned $500 to Keep Art Alive — an artist relief grant from the California Desert Arts Council (CDAC).

“The painting is based on a cactus growing at reclusive architect Albert Frey’s mountaintop residence in Palm Springs,” he says. “What attracted me to the cactus was its asymmetric growth that seemed to defy gravity. I sought to emphasize this imbalance by allowing the new growth in the composition to spill out from the boundaries of the canvas. Likewise, I found the stark contrast between the old and new growth to be an interesting poetic juxtaposition alluding to life, death, and renewal.”

Fleming-Boyles painted each spine of the jumping cholla in self-isolation, “like a prisoner making tally marks on the wall to count the passage of time,” he explains, over two weeks to mimic the incubation time of the coronavirus. “The arduous task kept me grounded and focused and gave me a sense of purpose after losing my job as well as opportunities to exhibit my work.”

CDAC and affiliate La Quinta Arts Foundation established a $50,000 Keep Art Alive fund to award grants to Coachella Valley artists and arts organizations who create thoughtful, inspiring, and relevant works responding to the crisis.

See more paintings by Zachary James Fleming-Boyles at