The anarchist trailer park of ‘Slab City’ sits a half hour’s drive from the Salton Sea – Self-proclaimed as the “last free place in America” it’s home to “Salvation Mountain” creator Leonard Knight, an agnostic ex-Korean War veteran who found God in San Diego during a visit to his sister’s.
Midnight. I find inspiration staring at a photo of an abandoned motel, and let my mind wander as I immerse myself in the desert aesthetic and all its sublime quirkiness for my new series of paintings.
I hadn’t been to the Salton Sea in years. Not really sure why. The fact it’s located directly over the San Andreas fault line isn’t entirely the reason. One thing I am certain about is the California desert long ago twisted its spiny soul into my psyche, and to a nomad like me, it’s a perpetual gold mine of noir material.
If you aren’t familiar with that part of the world, perhaps the best introduction to the once thriving 60’s resort is filmmaker Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer’s 2004 documentary, “Plagues and Pleasures of the Salton Sea.” Narrated by John Waters, it’s a surreal and thoroughly mesmerising journey into this post apocalyptic wasteland and the people who still call it ‘home.’
Venture two hours north into the Mojave and you’re in Twentynine Palms – or is it 29 Palms? What a great name, but why 29? I could Google it but decide it’s more interesting left unknown.
The dog-eared copy of “Grievous Angel,” Gram Parsons’ sad biography leers at me from the corner of the room as I focus on my drawing, while fantacising a midnight drive to Cap Rock to listen for the ghostly conversations he shared with Keith Richards, searching for ashes long blown away and hoping to catch a glimpse of Jim Morrison’s Shelby Mustang – a blue hallucination.
I think of a scene in Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” and search the “C’s” for Chris Isaak. All my music is arranged by first names, so I’m constantly finding things I didn’t know I was looking for – music always directing my compositions.
Anthony Bourdain did a ‘No Reservations’ episode a few years ago with local boy Joshua Homme. I remember he wore a funny sweater. On Joshua Tree he mused,
“I feel lucky to be in a place where there’s nothing. There’s something that’s overpowering, grander than you.”
I remove Chris Isaac and put on ‘Into The Hollow’ as I contemplate titles for my new piece.
Titles are always slippery. Sometimes a title can steer me straight into the heart of a great painting, but title as afterthought can lead to hours of frustration. Thesaurus must have taken the night off, no help here at all.
Alibris Books, a flickering icon on my desktop briefly morphs into Alibaba…the result of impaired vision in my right eye…
before settling itself into ‘ALIBI’
I decide on “Alibi Inn” because it’s late, or because it’s early, or because Elvis Costello told me to, or because it’s noir – but let’s face it, there’s nothing more convenient at 3 a.m. than an alibi.
I’m watching the second hand chase the moon from the sky – palm trees keeping sentry like effete matchstick men.
I’m searching for desolation – the kind that only those who have spent time in the Mojave can understand. I rashly decide one palm tree must be broken, sacrificed for the conscience of the painting. I reach for the kneaded eraser; or maybe it reached for me?
I then decide this crippled palm contains all the sorrows of the world – a heavy burden.
‘Something grander than you.’ Joshua’s right – you feel it here.
I’m running out of time as sunrise threatens my solitude. I need a silent witness for my alibi. In the window he closes the blinds – a crime committed or on the verge? She’s not sure yet.
A veiled sunrise catches the edge of a tattered vintage postcard taped to the wall. It reads “Joshua Tree National Park” – a 50-cent reminder I’m still in love with this place.