6HWbNHN-show-poster2x3-c7tgE2Y.png

Artbound

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
HvlSxHY-show-poster2x3-4ik43uV.png

Earth Focus

Start watching
5LQmQJY-show-poster2x3-MRWBpAK.jpg

Reporter Roundup

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Ricardo Breceda: Sorcerer of Sheet Metal

Support Provided By
DSC_0957.JPG
Sculptures by Ricardo Breceda. | Photo: Gordon Johnson

It's 116 degrees under the desert sun, so hot even the Borrego Springs horned toads are hunting shade.

But there's no shade for metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda who's welding sheet-metal scales onto a 350-foot sea monster.

White-hot sparks pop and blister from molten metal. So much sweat rolls into his eyes, he can hardly see through the welding helmet's visor. The sun is hot, the metal is hot, the arc welder is hot, the helmet is hot, his clothes are hot. 

It's July, he's been sweltering for almost three months on this sea monster. "All I can think is -- let's finish this thing," he says. 

Lost in the fever of work, his working delirium is broken by a young man who is yelling at him to stop, and holding out a bottle of water.

"He actually got in my face, and yelled at me to stop. I didn't want to stop, I wanted to keep going. But I'm glad I stopped. That guy may have saved my life."

Breceda knocked off, drank lots of water, and regained himself after a few hours cooling off to continue. 

A couple of days later, he finally finished. "Let me tell you, a beer never tasted so good."

Breceda, 52, of Temecula, is a legend in Borrego Springs for his sea monster and other creatures. It's part of the Sky Art installation, a now world-famous collection of his artwork in situ at Galleta Meadows. Dennis Avery, land owner of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs, had the vision of using his land as an enormous outdoor gallery. Some 130 Breceda pieces, including his tour de force sea monster, are installed on the grounds. 

Ricardo Braceda's Sea Monster | Photo: Gordon Johnson
Ricardo Braceda's Sea Monster | Photo: Gordon Johnson

He's a brujo, a sorcerer,  a magician who vivifies sheet metal. 

Folks driving east on Highway 79 near Temecula, ooh-and-ahh at bigger-than-life rams with full curls on a hilltop. A little further down the road, a stallion rears skyward, front hooves striking out an imaginary foe. A little further, a team of horses pulls a stagecoach at full gallop, the driver slapping reins, the man riding shotgun wielding a short-barreled scatter gun. 

There is usually a horse that appears to be jumping over the highway, but recent winds knocked it down, ripping out the stakes it was anchored with.

People are awestruck by the beauty and scale of his work, and the way his animals seem so real, the way he fashions sheet metal into muscle and bone, the way he captures motion. 

"I love it (the work) and I hate it. Most of the time I'm having fun, then what I do isn't work. But I can't wait to finish a piece to see how it comes out. What is good, what is a mistake. What I can change? What can I do next time to make it better? It's interesting," he says.

"At first I was clumsy, my efforts very boxy," he says. But after about 14 years of creating realistic, prehistoric, and fantasy sculptures, his skills have accelerated.

Ricardo Breceda and his scupltures | Photo: Gordon Johnson
Ricardo Breceda and his scupltures | Photo: Gordon Johnson

He resides at Vail Lake Resort, where in a cavernous metal barn and on the surrounding grounds he displays his metal art. The resort owner encouraged Breceda to come to the resort from his previous I-215 location in Perris. The sculptures visible on the hills are on resort property and function as both public art and advertisement. I don't advertise much, but it's my way to advertise."

Breceda lives by the old adage, "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise."

His barn is open to the public, people free to wander through his sculptures to take a closer look. 

On this day, Bill and Ellen Engstrom of Borrego Springs wander Breceda's compound to look over new art and to say hello. 

"Oh look, honey, here's a new piece," says Ellen to her husband, pointing to a Breceda take on James Earle Fraser's famous "End of the Trail." Breceda trots into his office and comes out with a blue ribbon. 

"This piece took first place in the Indian Wells Arts Festival," he says with a hint of pride. 

"I can see why it won," says Bill. "It's great."

Breceda believes in motion. He's almost always in motion. One of those fast-metabolism guys who need to be moving. He's been that way his whole life. His family owned a 250-acre ranch in Durango, Mexico. He grew up riding horses, corralling cattle, scolding the dog for chasing chickens.

Sculptures by Ricardo Breceda
Sculptures by Ricardo Breceda

He didn't learn anatomy in art classes, or from text books. He learned as a kid how to read musculature watching horses gallop in the pasture, watching how cattle acted when their eyes turned white with fear, watching birds of prey soar then cartwheel overhead.

"When I see one side of a horse, I know what's on the other side," he says. 

Breceda's life has been one of taking chances. He had his wild side as a kid, an arrest as a teen for a fight, an arrest for running naked through town after losing a game of strip basketball. Mostly hijinks of the young.

From a young age he learned the meaning of work. When he was eight, to keep out of trouble, he sold ice cream from a cart in the town square, he shined shoes, he sold pumpkin seeds his mother roasted for him. He worked on the ranch helping in the family business of raising pigs for market. He liked to roam the hills with his German Shepherd and his .22 rifle to shoot rabbits his mother would cook. 

Ricardo Breceda welding | Photo: Gordon Johnson
Ricardo Breceda welding | Photo: Gordon Johnson

He went to college, earned a teaching credential, and taught elementary school in Mexico. He worked construction until he broke his back. He sold cowboy boots at race courses where he also liked to bet on the horses.

"I knew the horses and the riders so I could make easy money at the races," he says, a hint mischief glinting from his eyes. 

He was a man who liked tools, and one day he traded a pair of custom boots for a welding machine and started fooling with it. Nothing serious, just teaching himself how to use it. 

He's a single father of two daughters, Lianna, 19, and Araby, 4. When his daughter, Lianna turned 6, he took her to see "Jurassic Park" for her birthday. He asked her what she'd like for a birthday present. She wanted a T-rex -- full-size.

"Oh man...But she was of the age when she thought her father could do anything. And I've always thought, if it could be done with my hands, I could do it," he said. 

Breceda believes in the can-do attitude. He refuses to set himself limits. He set to work. Although he had no specific training, he tackled the job confident he could do it. Helped by his long time friend Porfilio Sandoval Sanchez,  they hammered out pieces and welded them together to form a Tyrannosaurus Rex 25 feet high and 45 feet long, all ferocity and angry teeth. He set it out in front of his place on the I-215 near Perris, and the rest is history.

People lined up to see what he had done. "I became kind of a celebrity overnight," he says. Now there's even a book on him "Ricardo Breceda: Accidental Artist" by Diana Lindsay.

He has a studio in Mexico and does much of his work down there. Most of his projects are so big, they require help. Breceda, has several people working for him, and the work is intense, he says.

"We've worked round the clock on some projects. There's just something inside me that wants to get a piece finished," he says

"I work hard to get a piece to look alive, to give it a soul. I see that in a finished piece, and that makes me feel good," he says.

RicardoBreceda1

RicardoBreceda2
RicardoBreceda3
RicardoBreceda4
RicardoBreceda5

To see more of Ricardo Breceda's work, visit his website.

Dig this story? Sign up for our newsletter to get unique arts & culture stories and videos from across Southern California in your inbox. Also, follow Artbound on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.

Support Provided By
Read More
Chloe Arnold is photographed professionally wearing a leather-like top and red pants.

A Dancer for Justice: Chloe Arnold Connects Youth to their Humanity Through Movement

Emmy-nominated tap dancer Chloe Arnold credits dance for saving her life. Now, she is paying it forward by offering inner-city youth an opportunity to connect with themselves and others through dance.
Julio Salgado is wearing a floral print shirt and a black jacket while holding up two pieces of his art on each hand. The artwork on his left features the side profile of a woman with multicolored hair and statements like, "Black Lives Matter," "#MeToo," "Make Love Not War," and "Thank Black and Brown Trans Women for Pride." The artwork on the right reads, "No Longer Interested in Convincing You of My Humanity," with a graduation cap at the bottom. Salgado is standing in front of a pink background.

Julio Salgado's Art Uplifts UndocuQueer Existence and Joy

Life as an undocumented queer immigrant is difficult, but Julio Salgado has found that the arts practices he honed in school has helped him combat depression, negativity and stress. He eventually went on to use that creativity to uplift the voices of millions of people just like him.
Christopher Myers' "The Art of Taming Horses" is installed at Tahquitz Canyon Way in Palm Springs for Desert X 2021.

Six Sculptures Pay Homage to Forgotten Cowboys of Color

Christopher Myers' "The Art of Taming Horses" sculptures subvert the accepted narrative of monuments to tell the story of two fictional ranchers of color.