Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Bar, an AA Meeting and Beatniks

So what do these all have in common? Creativity.

First off, the bar. Pappy and Harriets Palace is a local institution located in Pioneertown. So much in one sentence. The palace is part bar, part restaurant, part OK corral and one stonking music venue. Pioneertown is a former Wild West movie set now inhabited by pioneers of a different sort.

I went up there on Sunday evening to hear the thriftstore allstars play - a regular Sunday evening gig. I leaned against a wall and bopped to the music until someone taped me on the shoulder. It was Randy Palumbo accompanied by Shari Elf, both of the venerable Art Queen art complex in Joshua Tree. They hit the floor swinging and I soon warmed up to bopping the night away.

Now all I drank that evening was grapefruit juice and seltzer, my new regular tipple. Nevertheless, I felt called to my first AA meeting today. Arts Anonymous that is, a national association for artists that supports and furthers creativity using the 12 step process. The session was held at the Art Queen and led by Shari. A wonderful hour of affirmations, sharing and committing to the week ahead. Thanks Shari.

Lastly, Beatnik, as in Beatnik Cafe. Wednesdays see a popular open mike at Beatnik where locals of all varieties display their musical talents. I went this evening for the first time and watched a wonderful array of singers, young and old. There was also some comedy from a self-termed cowdyke, political heckling whenever the subject of the nearby marine base was mentioned and a surprising recontextualization of a romantic song by a young marine. These are the wonderful contradictions of life in the California desert.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Forward Momentum

Last week sped by as I left Joshua Tree for the majority of the period. I spent a couple of days in Palm Springs exploring a consulting practice opportunity as well as participating in a long call to discuss the work that will be on offer at the next HIV Law Exhibition on June 2. I then went on to LA to swap out my car, visit with my good friend and gracious host Eduardo Braniff, catch up with my old friend Robert Dennis and spend the first night of Passover with family. This time was very warm and connected and I returned to the desert looking forward to the next phase. Part of me had been concerned about spending a week away from my work in JT and then I realized that this was an essential lesson - how to integrate the art and non-art parts of my life and not set tight boundaries between them.

This realization has followed on one I had before I left. I had been concerned about what I was making - not seeing development and not feeling that the pieces were hitting a mark. I was aware of the fact that I tidied everything away at night, keeping things neat. This was causing me to push for completion each time I worked, rushing to finish a work in order to close up shop. One afternoon I decided to leave everything out on the table. I started to see each bit as part of a bigger work or process. I started to experiment more and see how one thing led to another. Or not. This has created a new freedom for me, less pressure to complete and less tendency to judge.

On my return to JT, Gretchen from the Creative Center reached out regarding a print class. I had one day previously on the press by myself and had been disappointed by my untutored results although in retrospect I had valued them more when seen as part of the bigger process picture. I have also been adding watercolor to the drypoint etchings I brought back from that day, providing a counterpoint to regular monotypes.

Here was the opportunity to learn more technique and, perhaps, get some feedback. We had a long day interrupted only by a leisurely lunch at the 29 Palms Inn and a benefit committee teleconference for the upcoming exhibition. I learned about color use and mixing (some of you know how challenged I am in this area), stencil use and production, composition, press pressure, layering - making several runs on the same image, collage, inking a drypoint plate, and just how precise the printing process is. I also met some folks who dropped into the gallery, listened to good music and exchanged views on a lot of subjects with Gretchen. When I hit the road at around 6.15 pm with three prints in hand, it hit me just how exhausted I was. I crawled into bed that evening with that good weariness that comes at the end of a hard day's work.

We have another class scheduled for early May and I am now preparing my ideas, collages, stencils and stamina for that. I will be submitting work for the first time at Shari and Randy's wonderful Art Queen gallery for a show that will take place on Memorial Day Weekend. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Where Does All The Stuff Go?

When my friend Shari Elf (leftmost in this great image from Friday's Perry Hoffman opening at Gretchen's Creative Center - that's Gretchen in the middle and Ana on the right) told me about the Yucca Valley Swap Meet, I didn't know quite what to expect. On Saturday, after the farmer's market, I headed over there around noon. The swap meet is a giant flea market staged on the grounds of a former drive-in. There are some interesting solid structures, generally built in a wild, wild west aesthetic, as well as dozens of vendors at tables selling pretty much anything you might consider. From animals skulls to buddhas to outdoor teak furniture to electronic bits to an old Vespa to kitchenware, crockery, silverware and clothing. And much much more. For much, much less. You can comfortably outfit a desert hideaway from the supplies at this place.

I got there at noon, thinking the meet went until 2.30pm. It sort of does although the hardcore shoppers are there from 7am to get the hot deals. Quite why they bother I don't know, as one gent was giving a lot of things away since the crowd had disappeared and he didn't want to haul it all out. I wandered around, scored a CHIPs mug and old tin for storing coffee. The few vendors still there were super amiable, even providing real estate tips. I crowned the outing off with a grilled sandwich at the characterful Sky Cafe which ended up serving coffee for free to empty the pot.

As I ate lunch, I contemplated the Pinocchio / Tin Man assemblage mounted near the table. How do we separate out and value one effort from another? I had a breakout end to the week with my work. I entered into a new process of leaving many pieces out on the table and reworking or adding to them as appropriate. Just letting them be there and letting them mature. Tidying everything neatly away at the end of each day had been leaving me judging the works as individual final products - now I could see them as part of a larger development that was blooming on. No need to judge yet, or at all.

Friday, April 11, 2008


One of my senses of the High Desert is that it would be a great place to bring people together to share the atmosphere of potentiality and be inspired in various creative endeavors.The landscape, the weather, the community all contribute to something unique that has struck me and many others.

Being a practical sort, I wondered if there were facilities for bringing people together and came across the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, also known as The Ding Le Mei Institute of Mental Physics. The Retreat was established in the 50's, when Edwin Dingle returned from years in China and Tibet to bring his learnings on yogic breathing and meditation back to the US. I visited a couple of days ago and was very happy to find an amazing collection of buildings in a 420 acre desert setting. The design of the main buildings were in fact a collaboration between Lloyd Wright and his father, Frank Lloyd Wright. The structures have been well preserved and are now undergoing a light renovation. They include great facilities for dialog and workshops as well as plentiful accommodations. Add to this a desert amphitheater complete with large fire pit and a swimming pool. In sum, a wonderful setting for learning, sharing and making.

I then whisked myself over to Flamingo Heights, for a studio visit and lunch with John Luckett, an artist who has indeed come to the desert to retreat, refresh and create. The drive over was beautiful, the dialog was enriching and lunch was delicious. Yes.

Monday, April 7, 2008

When In Doubt, Go For A Walk

Yesterday, I attended a celebration at the Forest Meditation Center in Landers (see earlier post). The event was twofold: first, the consecration of a new granite statute of Buddha which had arrived only a couple of days before, and second, an early celebration of Thai New Year. We were invited to bring potluck lunch and I had visions of a dozen or so health food options on a table. Little did I realize that the center has quite a following and many people had traveled from LA. There were full on Thai treats all over the shaded ceremony area which made my couscous look rather paltry.

The ceremonies, starting with alms for the monks, were relatively brief and the lunch break was relatively long - just the way I like it. There were some wonderful touches like receiving a blessing for the new year by pouring scented water into the hands of the monks. A pot of flowers was situated below each monk so that none of the water was wasted. That was before people began to soak each other, and me, in the Thai tradition as New Year is at the hottest time of the year in Asia.

I met a trio of new faces at the Center - a painter, a Russian photographer and a Dutch print artist reluctant to call herself an artist. This led to a discussion of definitions of art and artist that got to the heart of some of the considerations I'm facing out here. These questions have been arising for me and challenging my sense of getting settled and making work.

They say coming down is harder than going up. This is true for mountain walking, drug use and the high I get from travel and novelty. The challenge of just what I'm looking to accomplishing here has taken the rosy edge off my vision and thankfully so. I'm starting to bite into things, sensing my vulnerabilities and using my life training to move forward.

So, I'm learning to just go for a walk. Out the door, onto the mountain, up and over into the wilderness. Imagine my surprise when yesterday's walk led me to crest a new peak and gaze down on the strange sight of old railway cars and a mini gauge railroad complete with station. Ends up the Joshua Tree and Southern Railroad Museum is just round the mountain from me. This was enough to put a smile on my face and remind me of the endless variety of human endeavor.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cranking Up Production

With much of the settling in process behind me, I had a strong urge to get some works into production. Tuesday and Wednesday were cutting and placing days and Thursday was a sticking, sewing and tracing day. I was preparing myself for Friday when I had the good fortune to be minding the Gallery for Gretchen. This weekend is the Joshua Tree National Park Art Show and Gretchen was setting up shop for the long weekend there. The payback on spending the day at the Gallery is use of the printing press and related materials. That and meeting the lovely folks that drop in.

The collages are very modernist, being derived from images in Dwell Magazine. I had found some wonderful old maps, sheet music and a workbook from the Lockheed Space and Missile Company in a local thrift shop. I thought the contrast of the sharp imagery with the various old publications would tell an interesting story. I'm exploring the notion that there is no need for me to be creating new imagery from scratch. There is plenty of rich material available in the world and I can repurpose both images and substrate to make something new. Recycyling materials for a new point of view.

With collages and tracings in hand, I headed to the Gallery on Friday morning. First up was washing a bunch of brayers, paintbrushes and plexi plates that had been used for a class with high school kids. Following a cup of coffee, I was ready. Or so I thought. Gretchen had told me to go easy on the ink and easy on the pressure. These are not intuitive to a total beginner and I guess I made all the typical mistakes. I had fun using tracings made from the collages to drypoint etch onto a plexi plate. I then merrily rolled ink over the plate and printed. A lovely black rectangle dripping dark ink was my first result.

The day went by with me variously consulting the web on technique and trying various tools and pressures out. The results were mixed at best and I have a much better appreciation for what it takes to make a good print. There's a reason there are master artists and printers involved. Luckily, visitors were rare since the locus of attention was up at the art show and the weekend was not yet in swing. I'm now heartily looking forward to my workshop with Gretchen on Monday

I ended the evening with dinner and some music over at The Palms, an institution in Wonder Valley. The Palms really needs to be experienced. Where else will the lead singer of a great band called The Sibleys cook your meal, bring it to you at the bar and then strike up the music? Where else is seltzer such a stretch that it comes flat? The locals are so colorful it puts the Mac range to shame.

The Sibleys played a long and strong set and were followed by Dean Chamberlain,
the former lead guitarist for The Motels. The audience of about a dozen good citizens was enthusiastic and even formed a coyote choir, the sound of which accompanied me all the way home to Joshua Tree.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Greatest Unincorporated Township in America

I attended a reception organized by the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council on Saturday evening where I met Steve Lipsitz, the self-proclaimed "Mayor of Goat Mountain". Steve is a fellow New Yorker who sold up and moved out here 4 years ago. He kindly invited me to brunch at his house in Landers followed by a visit to Giant Rock and the environs.

Steve's house is smack up against Goat Mountain and looks out over the entire valley to Joshua Tree, the San Jacinto Mountains surrounding Palm Springs as well as the even higher snowy peaks of San Gorgonio (11,500 ft). We had a lovely brunch in Steve's outdoor dining area, took a tour of the garden which includes pistachio, fig and grapes, and then headed out to Giant Rock.

Giant Rock is just that, perhaps the largest freestanding boulder in the world. The site once included an airport and the Come and Get-It Cafe. The rock is spectacular, particularly following a split which caused a large chunk to fall off. The area is now home to the freewheeling crowd that comes here on the weekend to run their ATV's over every nook of the desert. We sent quite some time gathering garbage before we took off.

Right near the rock is a dry pan which was purported by a man called George Van Tassel to be the site of a visitation by Venusians. It was on this visit that George "was instructed" to build the Integraton, an acoustically perfect geodisic dome designed to be a "
a time machine, a rejuvenation machine and an anti-gravity device." I visited the Integraton during High Desert Test Site in 2006 for a wonderful session of laughing yoga led by David Dodge. Today, visitors are able to take sound baths in the dome.

On the road back to Landers, we came across a rattler. The green mojave rattlesnake is the most venomous snake in the US. I hung back as Mike tried to get it to rattle for my benefit. Apparently, this is very early for rattlers who usually hibernate until after Memorial Day, which strikes me as a sensible idea.

We stopped by the local Buddhist sanctuary, Wat Santi Buddhist Forest Meditation Center. We were greeted by a monk who gave us a wonderful tour complete with a lesson on karma. In summary, don't kill a rattler and one won't come after you! The monks are building a new outdoor meditation area protected from the wind and heated by large freestanding fireplaces. They have just taken delivery of a very larges Buddha from Colorado and another from Thailand is making its way to the site. These two statues will be placed in a new structure to be built in front of the main meditation hall. We were invited back to celebrate Thai New Year's this coming Sunday.

The monk summed it all up. We like it here as the cost of living is low, the weather is wonderful and there is a great sense of spaciousness. His only concern was about the recent migration of more crystal meth labs to this virtual paradise.