ROAD TRIP: ART PILGRIMAGE-MARFA, TEXAS Part 1

Sensing my travel-starved state, our friend said, “Marfa.” And that was that. Several days later I took a solo pilgrimage- a road trip- to Marfa in West Texas.

You could describe it as the “biggest little art town,” in the country given the people who make the trek there- national/international artists, gallerists and collectors, celebrities like Beyoncé film makers and those who seek unadulterated art experiences like me.

It’s about 7 ½ hours from my home in Santa Fe,  3 from El Paso, 7 from Dallas and 6 hours from Austin.  It takes an act of will and a true believer’s fervor to get there.

marfa map

But like all the best holy spots rekindling of faith can occur, visions and maybe cures.  My experience touched on all of these things. I came away loving this part of Texas, feeling rejuvenated and creatively inspired. The desert air and 75 degree weather was ok too.

While films have been made here- Giant (w/James Dean) and There Will Be Blood – visual arts of a more minimal nature pioneered by the great American artist Donald Judd dominate parts of the landscape, as well as, various galleries.

The place fed my creativity. I worked on a script and some other writing, walked around the areas bordering the main street taking photos of the classic 40-60’s buildings being re-purposed , toured Judd’s spaces around town and met some friendly people .

Here are some of the Judd’s concrete sculptures sitting on the land surrounding the old German POW camp he bought decades ago and turned into the working exhibition grounds for his and the work of contemporaries he admired.

MARFA JUDD CONCRETE TWOOne of a number of concrete pieces by Donal Judd on the grounds of an old German POW camp he bought in Marfa decades ago.

MARFA JUDD CONCRETE ONEThere are a number of buildings on this land-you can see part of one in the background. The German POW’s were housed there, now they’re filled with Judd and other artists’ work.

It’s a funny place in a good way. I pulled into the Paisano Hotel on the main street in town and the only people I see walking are a couple of back packer-looking types with a camera staring at the Victorian influenced city hall building.

marfa paisano hotelThe Paisano Hotel in Marfa where I stayed.

But this isn’t a hippy town like Sebastopol or Cotati in Cali. The art over lay and location in the scrub of West Texas gives it a different feel.

There’s sort of quiet buzz here. You catch people at the hotel looking at one another or in Stellina, the hipster’s watering hole/ restaurant that appears to be the place where many of the visitors come as well as the local art movers and shakers gather.

It’s in an old building’s store front space. Common tables line the sides facing an elongated oval bar in the center of the room. The bearded server said this about the owner/chief: “She’s self-taught.” That’s Marfa I thought.

marfa building with stellina

Stellina the place I ate in one night is located in the storefront underneath the balcony seen in the photo.

marfa steillina with caption sketch use

One morning I searched for 20 minutes trying to  find Do Your Own Thing Coffee. Had I not read something about it’s unlikely location-in what looks like an old lumber and tool supply yard I never would have found it.

Here are some pictures of its surroundings and of the shack that houses the café.

MARFA DO YOUR OWN THING PIXThis the outside of Do Your Own Thing Coffee-sort of the closest thing to a “hippy” spot. Inside they have a wood burning stove for cool mornings.

MARFA DO YOUR OWH THING DOGI sat outside in the early morning sun and  spoke with a woman  who was from Denver. She bought ½ acre of land within the town so she had hook up for water and paid $75K. She’s building some kind of living/exhibition space she hopes to host various events.

If you go out of town some that same 75K will get you five acres.

I got the impression from talking to some people and observing the town that there are a number of people there who have money and are buying places to live there sometimes and have some sort of business. Whether they actually need to make money to maintain their places is another story.

I didn’t really realize why I went to Marfa until I came back. But I’ve been thinking of a project for a few years now-a building project called Heaven Sighting Device-that I feel could work there. More about that a later post.

marfa truck stop with note in tx I took sort of a  back way down there…south of Carlsbad, NM I went through 50 miles of oil country. All I saw was scrub and pumping oil wells and had to share the two lane road with huge tractor trailers and large pickup trucks all working the oil fields till you hit  I-10. This truck stop I sketched from memory was Mad Max like…an Airstream and various tents set up here and there. The whole time I was going through the area I thought I was looking at something secret. It reminded me of growing up in California during the 50’s and 60’s and our road trips to the desert where we’d see pumping oil wells and just appreciate them as objects of wonder. They were fascinating. Always had and always will have -a fascination with industrial processes and the tools/machinery making them possible.

Dean Balsamo

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