Western Edge: Week 1

Apr 2nd, 2013

It’s been just a week of life on the road, and already so much has happened. The morning of our departure, after packing up the car with overstuffed bags and loads of assorted snacks we headed out of familiar territory and went south into the San Joaquin Valley. We spent those first few hours in the car talking too much; we were giddy, nervous, and totally ready— I think all the organizing and planning to make WESTERN EDGE happen had almost stripped it of reality; it had become something that only existed in our emails, post-it notes, excel spread sheets, and endless dropbox documents, and now it was actually happening. I kept looking at my hands on the wheel and the road up ahead and thinking, “Damn, this shit just got real.”

// sundown in Bakersfield / Painting by Nano Rubio / Backroads through the mountains east of Ramona, CA //

I didn’t know what to expect from our first stop over in Bakersfield, where we visited painter Nano Rubio. When I had told people we were going there, most people crinkled their noses and asked, exasperated and dumbfounded, “Why?” So when we rolled into town I was hoping it would somehow defy all the less-than-enthusiastic commentary I’d heard. Well, I gotta tell ya… Bakersfield is pretty much what people say it is: flat, hot, dusty, and seemingly without much character. The landscape is populated with oil rigs, sweeping agricultural tracts, strip malls, and generic homes. Granted, I only had about 10 hours to soak it all in but it left me with squirmy questions about chance and choice and how exactly do people end up leading the lives they do. In a way Nano Rubio was incongruent to my understanding of Bakersfield — his large multi-colored abstract paintings seemed at odds with his ordinary suburban surroundings and his consternation regarding humanity’s relationship to land, nature, and community was an unexpected attitude given his surroundings. And yet he had grown up in Bakersfield, left for some years, and now had returned… to make art, to have a family, and to live a life.

// driving south from Tijuana to Rosarito / sketchbooks and studio of Hugo Crosthwaite in Rosarito, Mexico //

My curiosity around the nature of choice and circumstance ballooned in our two days in Tijuana. We visited three different artists there: Hugo Crosthwaite, Charles Glaubitz, and Jaime Ruiz Otis. All of them shared their work, their ideas and process, and they also generously offered bits of their individual story, offering us a glimpse into how and why their paths had lead them to where they currently are, both creatively and personally. Pierrette Van Cleve, Hugo Crosthwaite’s studio manager, drove us from San Diego across the border and out to Rosarito; driving like a bat out of hell, she spoke wildly of her youth, of her longstanding ideals, and of never bowing down to what she was told to be. She said to us, “When I looked at you two young girls coming down here, I had to smile because I thought, look at them, forging out on their own.” As we swerved and bumped along the road, as flashes of the world whizzed past the window, Pierrette’s words swelled up in my insides, filling me with hope that the path Klea and I have been cutting will take us even further and wider than we had allowed ourselves to imagine. Together, Klea and I got lost in Tijuana, we asked for directions in out-of-practice Spanish, we shared long afternoon hours with strangers who began to feel like friends, we ate the most amazing tacos I’ve ever had in my life (no joke!) and no matter who we talked to somehow the conversations kept prompting me to consider how quickly a series of decisions turns into a life story.

// At the home of artists Foi and Charles Glaubitz in Playas de Tijuana //

Once we headed back to San Diego we visited painter Kelsey Brookes in his North Park studio and chatted about how his work utilizes his understanding of neurobiology to investigate human existence and consciousness, both visually and philosophically. We also talked about how rife with contradictions, inconsistencies and mysteries the world is and that just when you think you know something, you find out you don’t. At one point in our conversation, Kelsey said, “Life to me, generally, is about the acceptance of the duality of things… and that there is a certain amount of unknowableness in the universe.” To be fair, our whole conversation wasn’t exactly this heavy— we did spend quite a bit of time talking about different dog breeds and their characteristics…a subject matter that I never seem to grow tired of. But still, I thought a lot about the “unknowableness of the universe” that Kelsey spoke of, and almost like a love note I’ve been (metaphorically) carrying it in my back pocket ever since.

// Kelsey Brooks in his San Diego studio //

Klea and I have the ability to talk endlessly about anything and everything, and one of our favorite topics is how much we get to know people in a studio visit; so much is laid bare, so much is told and shared and explained, so much is remembered and questioned and offered. Though we’ve been doing studio visits for two years, we are still always surprised by this rapid, but real intimacy. So far on thistrip we’re lucky enough to be encountering this same phenomena beyond just the studio visits. It’s been incredible to experience and one particular moment stands out. Leaving San Diego behind, we headed towards Anza Borrego State Park, eventually following a winding back-road through hills covered in white sage to finally arrive at a small ranch house on the top of a slope of green pastureland.

// collecting white sage / overnight stay at the home of artist & filmmaker Ellie Epp on Mesa Grande //

A woman we had never met, a recent friend of Klea’s mother, had invited us to stop over on our way to Salton Sea and spend the night. We just knew her name- Ellie Epp- and that she was a filmmaker. Within minutes of arriving we were sitting with her in the meadow behind her house, drinking wine, watching the sun descend. As we sat with the cool earth and overgrown grass beneath our legs, we talked and talked and talked. We never even started with small talk, we didn’t exchange predictable warm-up questions— we just launched right into it. Ellie shared a lot about herself, her story, her thoughts… but she asked Klea and I to do the same. And we did. Klea and I have a tendency to step to the side when heavy-hitting questions come our way, but Ellie somehow asked just right. She also made us dinner and breakfast and gave us chocolates for the road. Our time with Ellie felt like a moment stolen from time– the landscape seemed to hold still around us, only morning fog and wild turkeys rolled trough, and our voices carried out to each other, meeting each other halfway.