I've said that California is the perfect place to let your freak flag fly. For me, that means indulging my passions for puppets, neon, stained glass, carousels, baby animals, and found objects.
For others—especially those who are homeowners—it means pissing the neighbors off.
On a quiet, residential block of Pasadena, between Bungalow Heaven and Eaton Canyon, Brent Allen Spiers has got his flag at full mast.
The suburban middle class of this peaceful, Southern Californian enclave generally don't take too kindly to towers made out of trash on the front lawn of one of their own...
...even if the garbage being used is "sacred."
Those "atrocities" might be just fine and dandy out in the middle of the desert, like for Burning Man or Coachella, but for your front yard?
What will the neighbors think?
Well, there has been some scuttlebutt over the ever-growing collection of shrines, totems, and tokens that makes this particular house stand out among the manicured lawns and other so-called idyllic facades of suburbia.
So, I was particularly glad to see the property—which also serves as the workshop, studio, and gallery of Spiers, better known on the festival circuit as "Shrine" (or "Shrine On")—included in a recent artists' open house in Altadena and Pasadena.
I loved seeing the sense of wonder that would wash over the locals who came to visit. "How have I never been here?" they'd ask.
Shrine's Pasadena studio recalls other folk art environments—the towers of Watts, the clinking of Bottle Tree Ranch—but although many of its objects are familiar and commonly found elsewhere (bottle caps, bottles, toys), there's something unique about Shrine's spot.
He's not living in isolation. He's not out in the desert, and he doesn't have a sprawling property with nothing but time on his hands.
He's got his little plot of land and a modest bungalow squeezed between two others—and he is making the absolute most he can out of it.
And that means those idols that adorn the ceremonial altar out front...
...as well as the exterior surface of the house itself...
...and what lies behind it all.
During my visit, I got to introduce myself to Shrine, who took my hand and immediately pulled me in for a hug. I thanked him for having me. He thanked me for being there.
And then he waved me on back, down the driveway and somewhere in between the folds of his gray matter.
This is where the ceramics and pottery start—before they're shattered into pieces.
Objets d'intérêt collect back here, waiting to be chosen for their ultimate placement.
Makeshift minarets intermingle with pipe organ cactus to rise up and pierce the blue sky above.
Strung-up food cans clatter in the wind...
...and cast-off curiosities bathe in the sun.
There's even a little temple or prayer room or tea room, festooned with rusty can lids and empty abalone shells.
It's a good spot to have a seat and take it all in.
Because each of Shrine's pieces is so complex and layered, it takes a while to take it all in. You have to spend some time with each individual one before you can even begin to understand the array as a whole.
Sometimes you have to walk away from something and then come back to it to really see it.
Sometimes you've got to close your eyes for a while and reopen them to grasp what you're seeing.
By the time I reemerged from the backyard, Shrine had disappeared. I could've stayed there for much longer, but lots more visitors had begun to arrive as the open studios event was coming to a close, and it was time for me to go.
Without saying goodbye, and without thanking him again.
Thank you, Shrine.
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Photo Essay: Bottle Tree Ranch
Photo Essay: Bottle Village (Updated for 2016)
Photo Essay: The Rite of Zorthian Ranch, By Invitation Only