Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Photo Essay: Saving Sculptures from the Scrapyard

One of the first things I remember about my first trip to the Joshua Tree area back in February 2009 is the metal sculptures off the side of the road.


Circa 2009

There were roadside dinosaurs, sure—but there were other, more abstract, rusted metal works of art that looked like glyphs, or some other sort of communication from great civilizations past or great civilizations from another galaxy.



It didn't occur to me that they'd actually been made by a local artist. I took them as some unreadable sign from the Universe.



But they are, in fact, the metal work of artist Simi Dabah, whose studio and outdoor sculpture garden is hiding right there in plain sight on Sunfair Road in Joshua Tree.



Of course, Joshua Tree and 29 Palms aren't the only places you can find Simi Dabah sculptures. He gifted two of his sculptures to the CSUSB Palm Desert Campus in 2002 and 2005. His work is installed in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs, Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, Santa Clarita, Hesperia, at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills, Pasadena Community College,



Earlier this year, the Cathedral City Library (just south of Palm Springs) acquired a piece called "X Marks the Place," and the City of Desert Hot Springs (just north of Palm Springs) received eight donated steel sculptures, which are now scattered around town.



In fact, he donates most of his works of art to public and non-profit institutions as public art.



In Joshua Tree, you can find over 700 of his sculptures that are up for grabs—either for sale, or to be donated in the future. Some area relatively small-scale, while others are more monumental, even architectural.



It's impressive, considering the fact that Dabah not only is in his 80s, but is also a self-taught welder. An immigrant from Manchester, England with a Middle Eastern-inspired name, he's been working with steel as his primary medium for over 40 years.



The resulting pieces, rusted by the desert, appear almost kinetic—though they're most certainly fixed in place.



It seems that it would almost be a shame to remove one of the pieces from its position in the garden, which has been so carefully curated.



Or has it? Perhaps the sculptures have managed to settle into their current, seemingly organized positions, despite the entropy of the desert.



It's important to note that the steel material Dabah uses is actually scrap metal...



...so it might appear that his eight-acre outdoor sculpture studio is something of a junkyard.



But even if it's junk art, it's a beautiful vision, disrupting the sandy terrain and the clear, blue skies of the Mojave Desert.



After all, everything can be used for something... in the desert.



They almost blend into the landscape. They seem to fit in with the drought.



Maybe that's the patina they get from being exposed to the harsh desert elements.



Dabah is incredibly prolific, even at his advanced age, welding dozens of new creations every year.



And he's been displaying them at his Joshua Tree studio since 1972.



Most of his works don't have names...



...which leaves the interpretation up to the beholder.



Not bad for a high school dropout and former attorney whose main endeavor has been as a real estate investor.



That means he doesn't depend on being a commercial artist. In fact, he's created a non-profit foundation and actively encourages donation requests from worthy organizations.


2008 (12'h x 12'w x 3"d, 870 lbs)

But he works on his scrap sculptures every day in some way or another...


2013 (9'h x 12'10"w x 3"d x 30"x30" base, 520 lbs)

...sometimes completing one in just a week...


2013 (20'h x 20'w x 30"d x 36"b, 600 lbs)

...and other times mulling one over for months on end.



Apparently, they've been getting bigger and bigger over time—some now weighing over a ton.



It's enough to necessitate having his own forklift.

So why does he do it, if he doesn't make any money out of it? Is it just because he can?

Well, if you were to ask him, he would say it's because he must.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Noah's Art
Is It Art, Or Is It the Desert?
Photo Essay: The High Desert's Crystal Cave
Photo Essay: The Design of Living at A-Z West