It’s been an epic production period – five large new billboard paintings in six months. As we wind down and get ready to ship everything out, I’m feeling so crazy lucky to have had such a great group in the studio. Each person came with a totally unique skill set - and overall there was just a great amount of breadth and competency as we faced each challenge. Thanks so much to Patrick, CJ and Kelly who are painting fiends, and to and to Peggy, Lucy, Jane, Lani who all also contributed significant stints. The studio just seems to get better each year.
AZ West started out as a tiny 700 sq foot homestead cabin and over the last twelve years has evolved into an elaborate compound of structures and parcels of land. For my first six years in the desert all water was hauled in by trucks that were notoriously unreliable. We lived by the rule “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down”. House guests who offered to wash dishes were watched with an eagle eye to make sure that they didn’t use more then a trickle. Even the cooling systems (evaporative) require water – so when there is non, life becomes untenable.
Nowadays I have a well, and the house borders on the edge of bourgeois. But there are regular reality checks that serve as remiders that we are living in the desert . Last year the pump in the 660 foot deep well failed and had to be pulled and replaced two times in less then twelve months – and last week a secondary pump that pushes water from a holding talk to all different parts of the property had to be replaced. It isn’t a question of whether a part of the system will fail, but a question of when it will fail. As a result I’ve learned the art of appreciation – this week we are celebrating our shiny new blue pump that is optimistically pushing water to all edges of the property.
Last weekend Katie, Sarah and Kate hosted a Women’s dinner. I’m of a generation (of women) who pushed hard to be beyond gender and I’ve spent so much of my life trying to defy expectations based on things like class, sex or age – So I have to admit that I had mixed feelings about celebrating my gender identity . But I’m an eternal fan of Katie, who I trust completely, so I set out following a hand drawn map and a series of signs that said “women”. We parked in the fenced yard of a small stucco house and then walked down an old washed out road that turned into a rough trail that terminated at the ruins of a stone cabin.
It was high up in Pioneertown where the nights get chilly – and there were few flashlights between us, but it was a really extraordinary evening. It also made me realize how many truly exceptional people have moved here in the last two years. (both women and men alike) Katie who is out here teaching desert youth, Angela who lives in a world of her own, Peggy who I think just found herself, Kelly who has wonderfully dry humor and deadpan honesty, Lucy who is totally sincere and sweet, another Kelly who became my new hero when she told me that she lives in the back of her red Toyota pickup for up to eight months a year (while tracking tortoises), And I reconnected with Stephanie Smith who has been here for years doing her thing – which is ever evolving and always fascinating.
I’ve been living in the desert for almost thirteen years – and every so often there is a real shift. Right seems to be one of those times. Several years ago the recession put a damper on investors snapping up desert properties to make a quick buck – and now those of us who are left on the ones who truly love this lifestyle and couldn’t live anywhere else. And being added to this mix is a younger generation of desert explorers bringing a new depth and thoughtfulness to our community. I know things will continue to change, but sometimes I wonder if we will look back on this period as one of those moments when things seemed to be in just the right equilibrium.
Yesterday we said goodbye to our awesome summer intern Lucas Wrench (shown shrouded in mystery in this photoshoot that we just did with one of the amazing blankets woven by Sheila Shanti for our fall show). Lucas was such a good sport about the heat and all of the crazy grunt work that had to go down at AZ West this summer – After wrapping things up here in Joshua Tree he has one more year of undergrad and then fantasizes about moving to Detroit. If anyone in Detroit is reading this let us know so we can put you in touch with Lucas.
Thank you so much for all of your hard work – we are going to miss you!
I went by TKs Shop this afternoon to check out a workstation that we just finished as part of a new commision. Its been a really fun project from the start, and a nice opportunity to work with marine ply (I usually work with A/C ply) and also to try out a new rounded corner mirror shape. There is something so satisfying about making truly functional objects. I also love the big loopy grain of fir plywood – and the way that it takes on a subtle relief when sanded. It reminds me a lot of the home craftsman ethic that was so predominant in our southern California garage-workshops when I was growing up.
I got a really nice note from Katherine Ball today – Katherine was last year’s resident on Indy Island, and she came to visit AZ West a few months ago, just in time to help put the finishing touches on the Encampment (more about that soon!) and to help demo Yucca Crater. (A brutal hot sweaty undertaking which she took on cheerfully and uncomplainingly)
Katherine likes to go on epic runs – and while out in the desert pioneered a new route around the rocky mountain next to AZ West. Today she sent a map and detailed description of her journey, which I’m about to try out this evening as I walk the dogs… (my disclaimer is that I’m walking not running, like Katherine was, and one of my dogs is a geriatric 16 year old, so we will see how far we make it on our first pass.)
Katherine’s instructions: HERE IS THE LOOP I RAN:
Go down your driveway like you are heading to the highway, into Joshua Tree.
1. Make a Left on the first dirt road that follows the powerlines and runs parallel to the highway.
2. Travel along it, bearing a slight Left when it forks (don’t go left at the cross).
3. Follow it to a car turnaround and head Left through a canyon (one of the first rocks has a bunch of Playboys behind it).
4. The canyon path will peak by a dirt road/wash by a house.
5. Go Right and snake your way through the rocks (10 – 20 minutes?)
6. There will be an opening with a lot of washes.
7. Go Left around the big rock with the science device/tower, follow the wash.
8. You will come to a dead end (less than 5 mi)
9. Climb up the boulders on the Left side.
10. Walk through wash with the rocks carved by boulders.
11. Go Left at the end/road (?) and cross by abandoned look out.
12. From the lookout, find a trail that is near it (forward) and runs parallel to a road. This trail will intersect the road on your Right and then the trail will branch off to the left and bring you to the backside of the canyon that connects to your wash. You will make a Left into your canyon and follow it to the Wagon Stations.
****It will be challenging to complete the loop on your first go. I suggest trying to make it to the lookout or dead end coming from both counterclockwise and clockwise, then connect them.
1. Head through your canyon.
2. It will veer left as it dissipates.
3. Find the trail that is on your Right and goes perpendicular.
4. The trail will take you to a road (within 1/5 mile).
5. Make a Right on the road and look for the abandoned lookout. There is a trail that goes there, or you can just aim for it.
6. The wash that connects to the dead end is approximately 1/3 mile. You will make a Right into the wash. I think there is a trail or road but I am not sure.
I got a really great letter the other day from Katharine Ball – the 2001 Resident on the Indianapolis Island, a work commissioned last year by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Katharine made a grey water system right under the sink inside the island. And she is a really intense, honest and thought provoking writer You can read Katharine’s letter her here – and then check out the rest of her blog…