Beyond beyond. After 29 Palms, a half hour past Joshua Tree, which is as far as anyone would likely go, you'll pass a sign, "Next Services 100 Miles" and you will be almost there. Much farther, it seems, and you'll be crossing over the Colorado River into Arizona.
Then you'll zip by the hand-made sign, which catches your eye, like a broken fragment of a mirror in the setting desert sun, so you'll turn in on the following dirt road and go back a block. You are out there. You have found the most unlikely of places, the Glass Outhouse Gallery and the opening night of "Archetype and Anarchy" is in full swing.
On this Supermoon-lit night, the sun settles down in the west in perfect synchronization with the moon rising from the east, like a radiant orange. Natural light, mingling with the twinkling of long strings of colorful Christmas lights, dances on the round bottoms of the green and clear, glass bottles, planted neck-down, in a giant circle, at the end of a dusty walkway, decorated with coyote cut-outs and other strange scenes, such as a tiny corral with a giant, stuffed toy burro inside.
Between the outdoor area, where the musicians are setting up their percussion instruments, beside the water tower and festively lit trees, and the main gallery building, lies the centerpiece, the namesake of the gallery, the actual Glass Outhouse.
There is some discussion each time someone needs to use the facility, confirming that, while one can see the outside, from inside the outhouse, nobody on the outside can see in. Still, there is something oddly disconcerting about the experience of using the Glass Outhouse for the first time.
Not so, the gallery itself. There could be no less-pretentious gallery anywhere on earth. The owner, Laurel Sidle, who signs her own work, Llaree, greets each arrival comfortably, like an old friend, and doesn't take a commission, which is lucky for the artist, Monet D. Blair, an abstract expressionist whose work, with titles such as "The Dark Night of the Gentle Soul," "First Among Equals" and "Emotional Landscape," reflects her passion for philosophy and the Jungian psychology she's studying at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. Her dark, introspective pieces, where bemused faces emerge from thick layers of stormy texture, explore the depths of the subconscious.
Monet's monthly commute from Joshua Tree to school means several days away from her 6 year old at a time, and away from her boyfriend, Rick Rodriguez, whose work is also on display. But none show any sign of stress. It could be the calming effect of the desert or it could be that the desert attracts introspective types, who each need their own space, to create their own worlds.
The conga drums outside are Rick's and he is joined by three friends from the band, Milpa Musica, field music, who have driven in from San Bernardino, after catching the final weekend of the Frida Kahlo exhibit at LACMA. Rounding out the impromptu, free-style band is a rock-climber couple who play bluegrass together and a local jazz drummer.
Playing the South American Charanga - and standing in the center - is Agua, wearing a "No War" t-shirt and singing about la luna.
"You carry the ancestors in your palms, You are the butterfly nectar," he raps, "Marching barefoot...I enjoy you for being you..."
The rhythm makes me want to pick something up and make some noise, but this instant band is already complete.
Next, Antonio, sitting and pounding on the cajon, begins to chant, "Night becomes day, day becomes night, night becomes day, day becomes night," while invoking the spirits, "Old souls, living in a New World Order..."
His wife, Melissa, has been standing on a small platform between the men, dancing and now she's shaking a rattle, sparingly. The three small sons, all around the same age, of the banjo and guitar player/rock-climbers; the dancer and the charanguista; and the philosopher/painter, dash around under a gigantic moon with light sabers and styrofoam swords.
After the musicians stop playing, I ask Agua - 'real' name, Jose Ledezma - about the small, 10-stringed, lute-type instrument he's playing. He gives me a quick explanation of the charanga, coming from the Andes and played throughout Bolivia, Chile and Peru.
He mentions Violeta Parra, who was the reigning queen of the instrument.
"Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto," he sings as I listen, blankly. I promise to Google and Youtube her as soon as I get home, before narrowly salvaging my credibility by dropping the name of Chavela Vargas."She was friends with Frida Kahlo," he tells me, smiling, but I already know from seeing the Salma Hayek movie that they were more than that. (Later, my Google search tells me Violeta Parra was a political folksinger, as well as a pioneering musician.)
In the back room of the gallery, a permanent show is on display; a red rose stained-glass window in an , oval, amber frame; a painting of a quail inside a mailbox; local artists, including some coming from as far away as Russia, like Regina Kirillov and her husband, Dmitry, whose painted-over, silver gelatin print of "Pan" faces down our host, Laurel's own "Life of Christ," in which a black ink drawing of Jesus, "sometimes mistaken for Jerry Garcia or the "Zig-Zag" man," according to the artist, is framed by a halo of hair, telling the story of Christ. The hair on the right side of his face is a drawing of the Annunciation; in his beard, the Nativity scene; on his forehead, His time in the wilderness and on the left, the Crucifixion.
"I know how hard it is for artists," Laurel tells me, while offering a tin-foil-wrapped pumpkin bread her sister baked earlier. "That's why I don't take a commission. Before I got on disability, I had to support myself solely on my art. Pay the property tax and everything. I painted everything I could get a hold of. Saw blades, you name it."
Thank you life, you have given me so much.
Top Image: Monet Family.