I feel the desert calling me. The life and limbs sprouting through decay. Dusty plains and jurassic Joshua trees with scaled bark and spiked tips twisting toward nirvana. The desert holds a mystical aura. You can see it in the sunset— pink and purple patches blanketing the sky usher a sea of stars into the black of night. Life moves slower out here. The days feel longer. Breathe moves deeper. The desert isn't for everyone. Old homesteads with rusting car lawn ornaments, subterranean bomb shelters, and building sized boulders piled into makeshift mountain— the desert can be a sanctuary or a wasteland. It shifts with perspective.
Many artists call the desert home. With the vast expanse of space to wander and wonder, inspiration seeps in. While staying at a friends airbnb homestead in Joshua Tree— we explored desert monuments left behind like vast, intricate headstones for artists' Noah Purifoy and Leonard Knight. I'd never heard of Noah Purifoy before the trip, and feel fast for his outdoor sculpture garden. During the last fifteen years of his life (1989-2004), Noah Purifoy built over one hundred works of large scale assemblage, environmental sculptures, and installation art that rests in The Noah Purifoy Foundation's Outdoor Museum. Open to the public for exploration, the garden is best experienced at sunset. Give yourself enough time to wander and see everything. The light faded before I could drink it all in.
You've probably heard of Leonard Knight's Salvation Mountain or—at the very least— seen it on your instagram feed at one point or another. Knight struggled to find his purpose and creative vision as an artist until he found Jesus. The Sinner's Prayer led to his salvation personally and artistically. It inspired his epic adobe, rainbow covered mountain— salvation Mountain. While I'm personally not a huge fan of organized religion, I can appreciate the spiritual enlightenment Knight experienced. There would be no mountain without his faith. Smack dab in between Niland, Slab City, and the Mexican border, Salvation Mountain is a dreamscape come to life. It's worth the drive, but be prepared to only eat what you bring or greasy taqueria grub just outside of town. The Salton Sea offers many things—pungent dead fish air, abandoned shells of buildings, and a train track skimming the two lane highway—but bathrooms and food establishments are nowhere in sight. Visiting the Mountain is a day trip from most desert cities so plan ahead.
I've never believed I could be an artist. To claim that title in a professional or personal sense. To create as a means of survival and sanity. I do those things, but never felt I could carry the weight of the word— the power and authenticity behind it. Visiting the monuments of men standing and influencing thousands posthumously sparked a fire in me. I started to dream up sculptures. Public parks with picturesque instillations meant for play and inspiration. Creative thoughts in a new medium expanded the limits of my own capabilities and confidence. I saw myself as more than just a photographer. I saw myself as an artist.
I get it now, why so many artists retreat to the desert. Nothing fuels creativity quite like grit and grime.