I stayed at your house this weekend, the one in Joshua Tree. I was there with my friends to celebrate my birthday. It was perfect, the shifting colors of the sunrise on the rocks, the crisp winter chill, and that comforting enveloping calm and silence - I'm sure that's what drew you here in the first place. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until my last day till I really spent time in your studio, and started to get to know you.
I was sorry to intrude, and worse yet speculate about you in your absence. I would have much rather had you invite me in , serve up a cup of tea, and show me your latest project. I'm sure you would have let slip some of the inconsequential details that would allow me a more intimate view into who you are.
Instead, I walked in on the morning silence, a cup of coffee in hand to take in your studio. I was not really expecting you there, I knew you had long ago left for France. Yet, slowly as I indulged my curiosity you started to reveal yourself to me.
I was impressed at first glance seeing all your materials left in their shelves. I thought perhaps the new owners left them for authenticity sake – a true artist studio – or perhaps to be an enticement to play and be creative. But I came to see they were more than authentic, they were there awaiting your return.
I started with you bookshelves, volumes of French texts, Carl Jung, Islamic poetry - books acquired over your lifetime, that you shipped to have them here in your studio. An old copy of America Hurrah - are those your letters in the Jean-Claude van Itallie archive? Did you see him perform at Highways when you lived in Santa Monica? Perhaps we once stood next to each other at a performance or a gallery show?
I pulled a volume of Rilke poems, thinking I'd read a bit while everyone else slept in, but they failed to captivate me. Instead I was compelled to explore your studio space, and maybe see it through your eyes. I could imagine you taking you morning coffee just like me, maybe starting a fire in the small wood burning stove to stave off the winter chill, and sitting down at your table to start in on your work. I started with a small sketchbook left on the opposite shelf stacked with papers, paintings, portfolios, and notebooks.
Dated “November ’98,” I saw your charcoal drawings, beginning with images of the bouldered landscape of Joshua Tree that now had become familiar to me. I saw how you transformed the shapes of the boulders into fascinating abstracts.
I moved on to a volume of water colors with splashes of color traced in a private calligraphy. Soon, I had your sketchpad open on the large center table, where it must have sat as you worked through your deconstructions, and sketched out your cosmology and spiritual color legend. They reminded me of the sketches my dad once drew as he tried to convey the meaning of life in a way transcending words.
One panel mapped your ideas to the body. The word “cancer” circled with an arrow pointing to the form. I knew that’s what eventually took you and seeing this, I know it wasn’t a surprise to you though it may have been for those around you. I’m sure you left on your last journey expecting to return exercising this sympathetic magic while exploring your own mortality in the infinity of the universe. Breath.
The more you revealed the more I began to wonder. A few Polaroids remain as well as a childhood photo. You’re alone in them, and I wonder if that is why you settled in such a place, at the end of a dirt road, in the middle of a desert protected in your own canyon of stone and silence. I know this place inspired you, and you were comfortable here on your own, but I wonder about your loneliness. No friend or family member came back to pack up your things, or take away the art works to serve as your memory.
Yet, waking your property,there is a guest house and large outdoor kitchen, surely you entertained here? Invited your friends stay awhile and take in the rosy creep of sunrise. Perhaps you also celebrated some birthdays here/ Who were your guests? Friends back in France? Who took those Polaroids?
You seem too young to no longer be with us, then again, I’ve already outlived a few of my contemporaries. I find myself wishing you were here to guide me on this tour, and maybe you were through your works and artifacts. I know all the ceramics, the tile work throughout the property are yours, and these sketchpads and notebooks reveal even more.
I had to leave before I started pulling down the zippered portfolios, or examining the artworks wrapped for shipping. I was tempted to steal a piece for myself but couldn’t bring myself to separate anything from this space, this collection of you. Rather, I hope someone else might stay here, meet you, and get to know you in your space. I only hope they also resist the temptation to take a piece of you for themselves so I can come back and visit you again and have more of your mysteries revealed.
I thank you for your hospitality, the things you did while you were still alive, and the things you left for me to discover.