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.