Kelly Vaughn

Ed Mell was a student of the Arizona landscape, of the state's skies, mountains and figures. The acclaimed artist was born in Phoenix in 1942, graduated from LA's Art Center College of Design in 1967, then migrated east to New York City, where he became art director at a major advertising agency. 

But after six years in the big city, Mell ached for desert landscapes. He returned to Phoenix in 1973 and painted part-time while working in commercial art. By 1978, though, he left the 9-to-5 grind and turned to his easel and sculpture full-time. In the decades that followed, his work and his words appeared in the pages of Arizona Highways many times, including on the cover of the magazine's 90th anniversary issue in April 2015. 

Mell's work was modernist, exploratory, vibrant. He captured the American Southwest in a style that was inspired in part by the likes of Maynard Dixon — "Most of my heroes ranged from the modernists in New Mexico to Maynard," he told Arizona Highways Editor Robert Stieve for the magazine's September 2020 issue — but that, in due time, became inspirational in its own right. 

"Ed Mell carved the path for all of us," writes painter Mark Maggiori. "[He] broke the rules, opened the doors to the possibilities, dropped modernism on Western art and took it to the next level." 

Sadly, Mell passed away on February 21. He is survived by his wife, Rose Marie, his son, Carson, and a state that will be forever grateful for translating its surreal beauty. 

"Ed was the greatest," Stieve writes. "His talent as an artist has been praised at the highest levels. And his artwork hangs in the private collections of renowned galleries and famous celebrities around the world. But you wouldn't know that by talking to him. He was humble about his work and his worth as one of the very best. He'd much rather talk about the beauty in the Arizona landscape than talk about himself."

Godspeed, Mr. Mell. We'll see you always in our sunrises and sunsets and in the indelible legacy you've gifted the Grand Canyon State.