Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gypsy Wagon Progress Report 12-19-2009

I got the floor frame skinned last weekend. This meant putting sheet metal on the bottom and painting it. Once the floor was done I and three friends, Dan, Jason and Amber, carried the 6'x16' steel frame out of the shop and onto the trailer. With the floor now on the trailer I welded the pre-made end panels and side panels to the floor and to each other. The Gypsy Wagon is finally starting to look like something.

Today I bent and welded some of the curved ribs on the wagon. It's starting to look a lot like a Conestoga wagon. I guess it's the decorations that will make it look gypsyesque. I am very pleased with how it's going together so far. I have been very careful to constantly measure and square everything so I don't run into fitting problems later on and it's looking like that care is paying off.

When all the curved ribs are welded on (there are four more) I can then skin the outside of the caravan. The sooner the better on this so I can protect the inside from the weather. For the time being I will have to cover it with tarps so the metal won't rust. I'd like to use some RV siding but I don't know if I can afford it. I found a pattern I like that I think will work

There is a lot to this project. Not only do I get to exercise my welding skills, I get to learn wood working, plumbing, and electrical skills as the Gypsy Wagon progresses. I am hoping to scrounge appliances out of old, dead motor homes to save money. The further I get on the project, the more excited I become!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Leave an Interesting Trace - Part One

Over Thanksgiving weekend about twenty-five people went out to the desert near the Salton Sea, California to build a large, collaborative artwork out of junk. We have a couple of working names for it - The Tower of Barbarella was the first name we came up with. Another suggested name was "The Tower of Slabylon" No decisions have been made on this yet.

We all had a great time building and decorating the tower as well as taking field trips to other Slab City art destinations like Rockette Bob's Church of Broken Toys, Leonard Knight's Salvation Mountain, and the two huge concrete tanks that have been totally muralized by a lone artist who calls himself Tom.

I shot video at the event and also took some still photos. The stills are at

The video is at

Big THANKS to Charlie Russell, the Mayor of East Jesus, and to everyone who contributed and participated in the project. We are NOT done! There will likely be another art jam at East Jesus probably in March of 2010.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gypsy Wagon Progress Report 11-22-09

This week I was able to build the floor frame and the frame for the back wall of the Cosmic Caravan. I started by doing a detailed drawing. I then figured out the materials list and ordered up the steel, which was delivered on Tuesday. The first thing I built was the framing for the floor. I plan to be able to remove the structure from the trailer so as to be able to use the flatbed trailer separately if I need it. This necessitates building a floor that is strong enough to hold weight when separated from the trailer. I used 1 1/2" square tubing for the floor frame. I built the frame to be 3/4 inch narrower than the trailer so it will not be too tight a fit when I slide the camper from the trailer.

Then, on Friday, I started building the back wall of the wagon. This is the wall with the door in it. It is at the very back of the trailer. The ceiling height should be 86 1/2 inches when furred out with wood on the inside. That's plenty tall. I made the door frame with an opening 24 inches wide by 77 inches tall. I framed two quarter-circle windows on each side of the door. There is also, framed into the back wall, an opening for removal of the compost from the composting toilet that will be installed later.

The back wall frame is made mostly out of 1" x 1 1/2" rectangular steel tubing. It allows for flooring that will total 1 1/2" in thickness. That's room for a layer of 3/4" plywood topped by 3/4" of whatever flooring material I use - probably a laminate wood-looking flooring of some kind.

On Saturday I finished the back wall frame and clamped it onto the trailer so I could see what it felt like to walk in the door. I think its going to work just fine. I spent an hour drawing up the plans for the front wall - the one that goes at the tongue end of the trailer. This wall will have window in it, a mounting beam for the bed platform, and two access doors to the space under the bed. I made sure there was room between these doors for two propane tanks to mount on the tongue of the trailer.

Today, I went out to a preview of what will be a huge yard sale once it's all organized. I found a couple of solar panels totaling about 100 watts and bought them. I can mount these on the roof and use them to charge the trailer's batteries. There is also a large, dead motor home that I think I can scrounge the kitchen stove and sink out of. There may also be a furnace in the motorhome I can snag. I will have to pay something for thes items but not near what they would cost new.

This is an exciting project for me. When I go to my shop it's hard to get on with my real work. I just want to work on the gypsy wagon all day!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Announcing the Cosmic Caravan

The European Gypsies (Roma) often traveled in colorful horse-drawn wagons. Brightly painted and ornate, these wagons, known as caravans or vardos, could be seen traveling the rural roads of England and Europe from the 1850’s onward. There were several styles of wagons but two styles stand out - the Bowtop and the Ledge.

I plan to build a gypsy caravan in the Bowtop style but, instead of being a horse-drawn wagon, it will be built on a flatbed trailer so we can haul it at highway speeds with a pickup truck. The Cosmic Caravan will be larger than the traditional ones and will include some modern RV conveniences inside. The old-style caravans were built of wood. Since steel is my medium, I plan to build the frame out of steel. Inside, however, will be trimmed in wood. Wood siding will be on the outside and wood paneling on the inside. We plan to decorate it profusely with paint and found objects, inside and out. It will be a sight to behold (we hope)

I bought the trailer last week. It's a tandem-axle made by Diamond T Trailers. The bed is a little over 16 feet long and a little over 6 feet wide. That ought to be big enough. With any luck I hope to have it marginally functional by March of 2010. Here are a few pictures of traditional style vardos.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Tower of Barbarella

There is soon to be a tower of found-object art in East Jesus. We got started on it last weekend. Blaze and I drove out with a truckload of lumber and some tools. Charlie, the Mayor of East Jesus, procured concrete blocks and concrete mix for the foundation. We set the foundation on Friday afternoon, eight concrete blocks, eight bags of mix, re-bar, and three-foot screw anchors were used. This may not be enough but it was enough to start. We began framing the base of the tower on Saturday. By Sunday noon we had used up all the wood and headed back to Arizona.

The Tower of Barbarella (our working name for it) has a 12' x 12' base and, when done, should stand over 24 feet high. Our intention is to cover the whole thing in found and trash objects like can lids, bottle caps, and whatever other durable, not too valuable, and interesting shapes we can come up with.

I, personally, have already accumulated lots of stuff to decorate the tower. I have a box of beer bottle caps, a box of CD's, a big box of shotgun shells, four brass and glass lamps, and, just yesterday, picked up a pile of used and weathered lumber.

The weekend after Thanksgiving a bunch of us will be going out to the site to build the upper part of the tower and begin decorating it. Of course, I will post the results of this next trip right here at Adventures in the Zone.

At right is my concept drawing for the tower. I'm sure it will look different but this is the basic idea.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Burning Man 2009 and AZ Decompression 2009

I went to the Burning Man Festival for the 10th time this year. We brought the Amphibia structure and had a camp of about 45 people. Lots of fun, as usual. Nevertheless, I am planning to take a break in 2010 and do something else for my big vacation. Burning Man is always fun, and there are always cool things to see, people to meet, and experiences to have. For a change, I would like to have a different experience. I am not sure what, yet. It could be travel to a foreign land, or attendance at one or more other interesting edgy events here in the U.S. We'll see.

Anyway, here is a link to some photos I took at Burning Man this year:

In October, I attended the Arizona Burning Man Decompression party at Gateway Ranch near Flagstaff, AZ. It's a much smaller event than Burning Man - only about 100 people. Compare that to the 50,000 that go to Burning Man. I love this event. Great time and great friends! Here are some photos' of the Decompression:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Almost Famous

A little over a year ago, my sculpture, Cosmos, was rented to be in a movie. The movie, Surrogates, just came out last weekend and the sculpture does show up, but just barely. If you happen to see the movie, Cosmos is at the human reservation in a green area where The Prophet hangs out. This scene is about a third of the way through the movie. Cosmos can be seen spinning away at the left side of the screen for maybe two seconds. If you aren't looking for the sculpture, you will probably miss it. Cosmos is almost famous!

Over the last year I have told people that Disney rented my sculpture and I have gotten many questions about how this all happened. Here is a brief description of what happened and maybe it will give you a little bit of information on how this small part of the movie industry works, at least in my case.

In May of 2008 I got an email from someone claiming to represent a major motion picture who said she wanted to maybe rent one of my sculptures. At first I thought it was just another scam to try to get me to divulge personal bank account info or something like that. The one thing that made me think it might be legitimate was there were a lot of phone numbers at the bottom of the email. I thought it was worth replying to.

It turned out the offer was legitimate. I was in communication with the Buyer for the Surrogates Production. She told me that the Set Decorator (an official title) wanted the "rebel camp" to look kind of Burning-Man- like. The Buyer had not heard of Burning Man so she went on the web, found the Burning Man website, and found a picture or two of my sculpture, Cosmos. This was how she found me.

I had no idea what to charge as a rental fee. Fortunately I have two friends who have worked in and around the movie business. Jeff used to run a company that rented cameras and such to film production. He was the perfect guy to ask about rental pricing. My friend, Don, has done work for Disney for years so he was helpful with information about dealing with Disney.

I came up with a weekly price and they agreed. They paid me two weeks rental fee and a crating fee in advance, which was pretty cool. Disney sent a truck to take it to Massachusetts where the movie was being filmed. I wrote a manual for assembling the sculpture and also shot a video of it being assembled. Cosmos is a bit complicated to assemble so I wanted to give the set building crew good instructions so that they could put it together easily and not damage it.

I shipped Cosmos to Taunton, MA in June, 2008 and it was set up on the grounds of an abandoned mental hospital/school called the Dever State School. If you look up Dever State School you can see pictures of the site, without the movie set, of course.

They rented the sculpture for three weeks and then shipped it back to my shop in Prescott. Unfortunately, one of the parts was damaged in shipping. The Lead Man (another "official" title) was great. He filed a claim with the shipper and I got a check to cover repairs in just a few weeks.

All in all, renting out my sculpture was a great experience. The people I dealt with were very professional and were excellent communicators. I would definitely do it again.

I tried not to have expectations about the sculpture appearing in the movie. I know that the movie industry spends millions of dollars on things that never actually show up on the screen. I hoped that Cosmos would not get edited out. I entertained the idea that it might even appear prominently. I couldn't help being a bit disappointed that it was so easy to miss while watching the film. But it IS there! So that's a good thing.

Cosmos is available for sale. I am asking $26,000 for it. It is a little over 20 feet tall and it's base is 12 feet in diameter. It has several spinning elements that are wind driven. I just shot a 1-minute video of Cosmos spinning in high winds. Check it out.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pyroklectic from Zebulon on Vimeo.

I am a member of the fire performance troupe, Pyroklectic. We performed on the Fourth of July in the Courthouse Square in Prescott, AZ. My wife, Nita, filmed us and I used the footage to create this two-minute video of the highlights of our show. I think I can accurately say that Prescott has not ever seen a performance like this before!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Snapshot of Cosmic Steel

I shot a five minute video today at my steel fab shop/studio. On Friday I finished, with some help, putting together COSMOS, a large wind sculpture I made in 2004. It has been lying around my shop yard disassembled since it came back from being rented for a movie. I finally cleared a space and put it together. It was breezy today and it moved beautifully in the wind. I just had to shoot some photos and video. There are some other in-progress and completed worksin the video, too. I apologize for the clutter in my shop. I guess I work in creative chaos.
To see the video, go to my Cosmic Steel website

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Queen Califia's Magical Circle

During my California trip in March, 2009, I visited an absolutely amazing art environment in Kit Carson Park in Escondido. It's called Queen Califia's Magical Circle. Opened to the public in 2003, this is the last major international work designed by sculptor and mosaic artist Niki de Saint Phalle.

The Magical Circle is about 90 feet in diameter and every inch is covered in mosaic. Materials include iridescent glass, pebbles, slices of agate, ceramic tiles, and semi-precious stones. The substructure consists of steel and polystyrene foam covered in fiberglass.

The walled circle has gigantic mosaic snakes around the perimeter. You enter the sculpture garden via a walled maze of black, white, and mirrored tiles. You exit the maze into a courtyard containing several totem-pole like sculptures. In the very center of the circle is a giant bird that you can walk under. In the space under the giant bird is a golden egg. On top of the bird stands Queen Califia, holding a small bird in her hand.

Niki named the installation after a legendary black Amazon queen who ruled over the mythical island of California. The roots of this legend date back to a Spanish novel written in 1510. Some people think that California (the U.S. state) was named after this legend.

Before she got into mosaic, Niki made a splash in the international art world with her "shooting paintings." She would embed full paint cans in plaster sculptures, put a blank canvas behind them and shoot the sculptures with a gun, splattering the paint on the canvas.

When visiting Barcelona, she was profoundly influenced by the work of Antoni Gaudi's Guell Park. This experience launched her into the world of mosaic.

Her largest work, the Tarot Garden, took 20 years to build and was completed in 1998. The Tarot Garden is in Italy but, in the U.S., the San Diego area has several of her works on display. Queen Califia's Magical Circle is the largest and most spectacular of her artworks in the United States. See more photos.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

East Jesus Expands

A little over two years ago Charlie Russell moved out to a corner of Slab City to create a habitable, extensible art installation that he calls East Jesus. Shortly after he arrived, I visited him for about a month and helped a little with his growing project. I made a 15-minute video of this experience which I put online. I visited again in March of 2009 and the installation has expanded impressively.

Charlie is the "mayor" of East Jesus. He started by having an old shipping container delivered to the site. In 2007 I and a couple of friends helped start a sculpture garden using the junk that is lying around the place. As of my most recent trip, his installation now includes two travel trailers, several rooms built between the trailers and the shipping container, raised-bed gardens and the sculpture garden has been fenced and more sculptures added.

He has built a music room complete with a grand piano. The walls are covered with found-object art. He has begun a fantastic bottle wall using wine bottles and mortar. There is an LED light in the open end of each of the bottles so, at night, the wall looks spectacular.

Charlie's French friend, Segolene, was there when I arrived. She and Charlie both like to cook so we ate some delicious meals. It was quite a pleasant contrast to be sitting amidst the junk-turned-art right next to a military bombing range eating gourmet cuisine by the ambient light of the LED bottle wall.

A few days before I left, A Canadian musician, Natasha Duchene, arrived to record an album with Charlie as the recording engineer and guest musician. She writes music, sings, and plays the piano.

I added a few more sculptures to the garden on this trip as well as helping Charlie build some raised platforms to hang out on and watch the sun set. See a set of photos here.

The next installment of this blog will blow your mind. Check back in a week or so to read about, and see pictures of, an awesome mosaic environment.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Slab City Tank Art

I just completed a two-week trip to Southern California in search of interesting art installations. This is the first of a series reports on what I found on this trip. The first installment is about two large murals painted on some concrete tanks at the abandoned military base now known as Slab City.

The concrete tanks are about 100 feet in diameter and maybe 12 feet high. They probably were water tanks. A year and a half ago a guy started painting murals on them. One of the tanks looks like it is finished and the other one is in progress. I thought the artwork was spectacular.

The finished tank has a sexuality theme. The artwork is layered with the background layer consisting of the Kama Sutra positions. On top of that are dancing people with animal faces and also a ring of people holding hands. There are also a lot of small animals depicted in sexual positions.

The other tank is not done yet. So far it has dinosaurs in the background with various weapons being painted on top.

I met the artist and his idea is to create something outrageous. I believe he is succeeding. This has to be one of the only places in the country where someone can get away with creating such a major and controversial work of art. He seems quite unattached to the finished murals and welcomes graffiti artists to come out and add to the work. He refuses to be photographed and doesn't want anyone to know who made the art.

I'd love to go back in about a year and see what the tanks look like then. Click here to see more photos.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Zone Trip 9

On Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009, over 20 people gathered in a secret desert location for Zone Trip #9 - Destruction in the Zone of Mass Destruction. The purpose was to commemorate the end of analog television broadcasting. About 30 old picture-tube-style televisions and a couple of computer monitors were gathered by the participants and creatively destroyed in a somewhat spectacular fashion. The next day it was all swept into piles, loaded into trucks, and hauled to the dump, leaving no trace of the chaos. See a 2-minute video of the mayhem.

There is something about the love/hate relationship people have with TV that prompts a few of them to smash them. There are a number of short videos online showing people smashing individual TV's. A few videos show more coordinated efforts involving large numbers of televisions.

The seminal event that spurred a lot of television abuse was a 1975 film short called Media Burn. An art collective called the Ant Farm produced this video as a parody and critique of modern media. The film concluded with a modified 1959 Cadillac driving through a flaming wall of TV's. I recently found a YouTube video with an excerpt from the film.

I suspect this groundbreaking (and TV breaking) event inspired at least one other similar event. In 1982 The Plasmatics made a music video for their song "The Damned" where they upped the ante by driving a school bus through a wall of televisions.

One year later, in 1983, Godfrey Reggio created a movie called Koyaanisqatsi which has a sequence in it of a wall of televisions being destroyed. I don't have any evidence to suggest that he was inspired by the Ant Farm or the Plasmatics but the timing suggests that the previous videos could have been an influence. I don't have a clip of this one.

This is the end of an era. Television equipment has changed. The old style pictures tubes pop explosively when smashed which is particularly satisfying. Today's TV's no longer use big, heavy, glass vacuum tubes. These new types of screens won't be near as much fun to smash.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Glass in the Desert

Although this is a "mainstream" attraction, the Dale Chihuly glass exhibition at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix,AZ was so uniquely beautiful that I wanted to share it with you. There was really a lot of blown glass artistically placed in the gardens amidst the plants. The best part about it, for me, was how it fit in and enhanced the gardens. The shiny, brightly colored glass pieces added a surreal feel to the desert and, although temporary, is reminiscent of some of the outsider art environments that I described in my previous blog post. The exhibition will be at the Desert Botanical Gardens until May, 2009 See more photos.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Building a Visionary Environment

For many years my wife, Nita, and I have had the dream of building a habitable, sculptural art environment. An art environment (also called a visionary environment) is a permanent, large-scale, art installation that reflects the visions and inspirations of the people that have created it. There are many of these around the world mostly hidden away in rural areas where neighbors were unlikely to complain.

The photo above is one of the structures at Eliphante - an art environment in Cornville, Arizona.

Most of the environments of the past were created by dedicated, even obsessed, individuals who spent upwards of 20 years building them. Many of the creators were unschooled in the arts and some did not even think that what they created was art.

One of the most famous examples of a visionary art environment is Watts Towers, in Los Angeles, CA. It was built over 33 years by Simon (Sam) Rodia. He built tall towers out of re-bar and scrap wire that he found and then cemented them with shells, broken 7-Up bottles, broken dishes and other bits of colored pottery that he found. The only thing he had in mind was "to build something big." When it was done, he gave the property to a neighbor and moved away, never to return.

In the 1959 the City of Los Angeles declared the towers unsafe and tried to pull them down. They couldn't do it. The towers were too well-built. The only thing that happened was some of the mosaic pieces popped off. The site was saved from the wrecking ball and, now, Watts Towers is the smallest National Monument in the United States - 1/10 of an acre.

An example of a religiously inspired environment is Salvation Mountain. Leonard Knight has poured and painted over 100,000 gallons of paint on a mud hillside for over 20 years. He has sculpted caverns out of hay bales, tree trunks, and painted adobe. The whole hillside is covered with religious slogans revolving around the idea, "God is Love."

Salvation Mountain, near Niland, CA, was begun in the mid 1980's when Knight decided that was the place to build his monument to God. Sometime in the 1990's the site was declared a toxic hazard and seemed destined for destruction. In 2002 it was entered in the Congressional Record as a National Treasure. Leonard, now in his late 70's, can be found painting on his mountain most days during the winter months.

A few art environments are the work of inspired sophisticates, rather than art world outsiders. The Tarot Garden, in Italy was created by Niki de Saint Phalle, a famous mosaic artist. Along with another well-known artist, Jean Tinguely, she created a garden of gigantic mosaic covered structures that represent the major Arcana of the Tarot Deck.

The Tarot Garden was begun in 1979. During much of the construction Niki lived inside the Empress, one of the largest sculptures. The site was opened to the public in 1998 after almost 20 years of work. Niki de Saite Phalle has created sculpture gardens internationally. One of them is in Escondido, California - Queen Califia's Magical Circle. Niki died in 2002.

- to begin building a habitable, expanding environment of whimsical buildings, gardens, pavilions, and sculptures. We need a place to build it. We are hoping there is someone out there with 3 or more acres of flat-ish land that they can spare, in a location somewhere in the Western U.S. that has good rainfall, soil, and growing season for gardening. It would be a plus for the site to be within or near a progressive, artistic community that would be supportive of our efforts or, at least, not complain about having something unusual in their midst.

The photo at left is a garden gate Royce welded together out of found objects. See more of Royce's steel work at Cosmic Steel.

We expect that it will take 20 or more years to achieve the scale and wonder that could turn the site into a destination for the public. With our combined artistic and construction skills - Nita with concrete and mosaic and myself with steel, I know we can create something grand and unusual. We hope our creations will also make people smile and maybe even be uplifting or inspiring to others.

The photo at right is Nita's latest project - a mosaic wall on the roof deck of The Raven Cafe, in Prescott, AZ. See more of Nita's concrete and mosaic work here.

To read more about our dream, about us, and about how you may be able to help, Click Here.