“The true account of the actual is the rarest poetry.” At a spot in the desert, a spot where people once lived, one like many I find, I saw an old, oily, half-buried hat while sifting through material outside a decrepit trailer left by a nomadic family. Letters on the front of the hat read, “ONE OF US IS AN ASSHOLE AND IT AIN’T ME.” Fair enough, I thought. After all, I was studying evidence of the particulars of their troubled lives in, around and downwind from their former attempt at freedom and a home.
The origin of my interest in this stuff? As a child I hiked through the Oro Grande and Apple Valley desert areas hunting jackrabbits and target shooting with my father and brother. Among the greasewood, yuccas and Joshua trees we occasionally ran across campsites or defunct homesteads with clumps of human residue, such as papers, beer bottles, pornography, letters, photos and evidence of illegalities. I remember being intrigued then by the mystery and pathos of the material.
My relationship with the Mojave developed through frequent visits with relatives who had been in the Oro Grande area since the beginning of the century. During the early nineteen hundreds my great-grandfather built a farm that was one of the most productive and important in that area. Today none of the property is left as his children sold it piece by piece over the years. All but one sold the land. My great-uncle Ralph farmed until he and his kind wife were killed in an auto accident. I have fond memories of summers partially spent at that farm with my brother and my cousin Alan. The last relative to live in one of the row of houses my great-grandfather built along old Route 66 between Barstow and Victorville moved a few years ago to a mobile home park across from the graveyard in Victorville where our dead relatives are buried. She has since joined them.
I roam American desert areas, especially the Mojave, finding objects left behind by people who tried, for whatever reason, to get away from other people. The semi-melancholy debris of free enterprise, the envelopes, letters, original poetry, photographs, pornography, government correspondence, collection threats, parole notifications, underwear, toys, tidbits of the objects with which they surrounded themselves, are things I find poignant. My intention is not to exploit this information for the voyeuristic thrill, but to somehow preserve the picture of these lives—maybe because of my own socioeconomic struggles and realization of the temporal nature of our existence. Proletariat realism.
From a formal perspective, some material I see and choose to use was originally designed to attract attention. It is abstracted through entropy, then becomes interesting for me to use as a reference to modern work. I use text as another visual element and make it difficult to understand immediately by veiling it or creating the illusion that it is seen backward, bleeding through the back of a face-down document. Deciphering becomes secondary to the immediate visual impact of the shape of the text. I take a few liberties, but I honestly reconstruct an image of the reference object based on what formal, socioeconomic and psychological aspects attracted my attention. So the process is controlled by honesty concerning my educated choices about what is present for me to use. My history, my education, the resulting decision processes, the cultivated visual bias, are what I am presenting.
(Quote from Thoreau)