Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sky, Art and Spirit

Everett Ruess and Curly the burro
Noah Purifoy's outdoor art
Art car "Bluewheels" at Burning Man
Fantasy city sculpture at Burning Man

Cadillac Ranch, best known Western outdoor art installation
One of my favorites, in faraway Australia
Really big art -- a churning baby star named Sharpless 2-106
Nomad artists seem to find an inspiring home in the arid West.  Poet and printmaker Everett Ruess was drawn to the quadrangle of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado in the early Thirties after exploring nature down the California coast and through the High Sierra.  From 1931 to 1934 he participated in archeology, learned Navajo, wandered and met with famous photographers such as Ansel Adams, trading his artwork as a living along the way.  Much older, wiser and experienced than his 20 years would indicate, his ideas and intense life can be appreciated today through two books assembled from his surviving letters and diaries (and illustrated by his own linoleum- and wood-cuts).  But his motto, "where I go, I leave no trace," turned out to be a prophetic self-penned epitaph after he disappeared in the Utah wilderness in November 1934, never to be seen again.
Everett's two burros were found near his last camp in Davis Canyon. 

Many others, including unlikely ones like D.H. Lawrence and Theodore Roosevelt, would be forever changed by their travels in the deserts and praries; some of them compelled to become folk artists and some who just didn't fit in anywhere else.  Fine art along with crazy self-expression and impromptu theater has found a home west of the 100th meridian.

Changes caused by harsh weather become part of outdoor artwork's life.  The rust color that develops in the dry climate gives Ricardo Breceda's large metal animal sculptures spread around the Galleta Meadows Estate at Borrega Springs, California, an aged leather look that is disconcertingly life-like.  There are bighorn sheep, wild horses, an extinct elephantine creature and a saber-tooth tiger attacking a wild horse that freezes a moment in time from long ago.

More whimsical, the images of "Cadillac Ranch" near Amarillo, Texas are well-known worldwide; there is also a "Carhenge," painted ghostly white, in western Nebraska.  As a European tourist remarked, "only in America!"

Going far beyond such ironic, static sculpture, there's Burning Man, a short-lived Land of Oz appearing each year in the Black Rock Desert of Arizona where art, costume, performance and astonishing temporary constructions swirl through the minds and around the bodies of tens of thousands of people; all is burned at the end or drives away.  The art vehicles roll around merrily in a Sergeant Pepper and Yellow Submarine world brought to life by unrestrained, uninhibited imagination.  When it's all gone and the dust settles, the chaotic energy rises and returns to the Sky, which has been home to a chaotic art show of its own for ages beyond knowing.

            "I have left no strange or delightful thing undone I wanted to do."
                                                     -- the conclusion of Everett Ruess' last letter

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