I was back in San Diego for another class, for another week. I was online trying to figure out what to do with myself during my free time (a common work problem for everyone, I suppose) and I stumbled across a thing called Salvation Mountain while researching the Salton Sea area.
Out in the middle of nowhere is a hill. And one day in the distant past, a crazy religious nut named Leonard Knight wandered by and decided to paint it. Actually, much of it he built with adobe clay and straw, and then painted over top of it. He's been bricking, baling, and painting this place every day since 1984. He estimates that he's used well over 100,000 gallons of paint.
You might think, given my history of anti-religious rants, that I came out here with the intention of being condescending and smug about such a massive, insane ode to religious fervor. Surprisingly, especially to myself, the fact that it was a huge glob of toxic, colorful paper-mache out in the middle of the desert was the irresistible draw, and the thought that it was dedicated to a God and a religion with which I disagree vociferously barely registered.
Also, the opportunity to take pictures, as always, completely overshadowed any thought of religion the whole time I was there. I often feel a sort of physical disgust when I go into lavish European or Salt Lake City cathedrals, for example, but that was not present here at all. Salvation Mountain is bizarre, it's insane, it's folk art, it's baffling, but it is not asinine in the same way that official religious locales are.
There are several broken down old vehicles scattered about, and it's obvious that in his off days Leonard was still under a compulsion to throw paint on whatever he happened to be sitting near. The image in his head of his love letter to God was obviously an obsession; up there he's painted a 2D representation of his vision. And down here, he apparently thought the desert needed a boat.
Ok, one last scope photo... before we go into the rabbit hole. In case you haven't picked it up from the photos, the mountain seems to be painted in a sort of waterfall motif, where the blue and white lines are the water representing God's flowing Love, I suppose.
Sea anemones? But even if Leonard thinks that there are sea anemones on the path to God, the amount of attention to the details of his vision combined with the dedication of giving his entire life to the project are astounding.
Looking out upon his works.... And I was perhaps unduly fascinated by this next shot, having always wondered what the edge of the Universe might look like, or the other side of a painting or a mirror. In Leonard's Universe, it stops right over the lip.
I spent about 2 or 3 hours at Salvation Mountain, taking shots almost non-stop the whole time. I can't begin to express how many pictures I'm actually sparing you from. It's odd how one loony-bin's obsession can become yours that way.
Here is an adobe cave he built for himself to live in; a nice place to escape the heat. Only he never moved in, opting instead to stay in his trailer because he couldn't not paint the hell out of everything he did.
So remember how I said I came without smugness or condescension? Well, that blissful state of photgraphic being was briefly shattered near the end of my stay. The whole time I was there, I was so in awe of the visuals, and obsessed with capturing them, that I hadn't really paid any attention to the words he was writing in paint. Until I went out and around for one last round of shots and I started way back out, by the mailbox.
Erm... poor choice of wording there Leonard. Maybe that's how it's written in the Bible, but some paraphrasing might have been beneficial. All this does is make me think that you wanted Jesus to violently prison rape you. Granted, I'm sure I'm more dirty minded than you, and I have been watching HBO's OZ on dvd lately, but you've got to think about your audience, after all.
Hundreds of photos, and I kind of wanted to go back at night and get some more in different light. But I didn't. If I'm back out that way again, then maybe. But with this post I'm glad to get this mountain of obsession out of my system.