I am indebted to Donald Hess who inspired this conversation.
When I first experienced this art gallery in the hills of Mount Veeder
I saw immediately here is the
of something awesome. It's rare one place is so bursting, so bountiful,
so rich with all the fruits of
The selection of this particular environment to house this
extraordinary art collection is unerring. It's outright uncanny. The
bucolic setting amidst gently rolling hills covered with a tapestry of
vineyards and lakes bears no evidence that city life is but a few miles
away. The air here literally glows with spirituality which
not coincidentally also provides the
for a nearby working
On every level imaginable - the
the spiritual, the sensual - this place is a laboratory for the
Hommage* by Leopoldo
The Hess Collection, Mount Veeder, California, USA
Strolling up a rustic path lined with rockeries and ivy, gravel
crunching underfoot, I'm surrounded by roughly finished clay sculptures
cast in black concrete almost as tall as me. Reading through their
abstract shapes I see impressions of war: battle axes and gun
carriages. Calming, blessing, and forgiving, an
sits watching under an olive tree, his flesh adhering to his girder
skeleton as if thrown that way.
Bright sunlight splashes its walls (clearly the architect's intention)
as I enter the tall gallery. Two opposite sides are rough hewn rock;
the other two are wood and glass. On the rock walls hang
strewn with what I
as components of a voodoo ritual. I see impossibly stretched footprints
in mud and feathers. It's very eclectic, a bit unsettling. Nearby a
smaller work, simply the shape of a face, suggests the artist let the
shadow of his head fall on the bristol on his easel,
outlined it with charcoal, then picked up soil and leaves from where he
stood, blended them with ochre
and smeared them on to fill in the work. It evokes the rising of Adam
from the dirt.
Walking up stairs of impeccably sanded hardwood flooring polished to a
bright shine, I'm drawn to what could best be described as
hallucinations on parchment which adorn the staircase
walls. Imagine gently pressing the heels of your palms into your closed
eyes until lights start to float and dance in your head. Then
transcribe that in oils, ink, or watercolor. That's what
I'm seeing here.
Waiting for me at the top of the stairs on a narrow pedestal sits a
bronzed casting of a rabbit. "So?" I muse, vaguely disinterested. I've
almost walked by it, almost dismissed it when I turn for one last look
... and notice ... it's a turtle wearing a bowler hat. No! It
I retrace my steps. It's a rabbit. I walk by it again. It's a turtle
wearing a bowler hat. When this study in perspective finally sinks in
it blows me away. The conception is brilliant, the execution perfect.
I'm inspired, getting an infusion of its sheer
directly by osmosis. A shiver of delight runs all the way up my
Hanging near the rabbit turtle wearing a bowler hat is a large circular
piece I don't quite get. I see thick jade and creamy marbled white oils
on a plywood base. It's an abstract - that's for sure. But it has two
large hinges dividing the work, allowing the piece to be folded into
Then it dawns on me. The hinges aren't simply components of the
collage. They're functional.
I confer with the gallery catalog, the first time I've consulted it so
far. The piece was
by a freedom fighter in the French
The large cumbersome to carry work could be displayed at street fairs
then quickly folded into a more convenient travel size if a sudden
getaway was required. Paul McCartney and Wings singing "Band On The
Run" come into my mind, the soundtrack for the moment. This is art
on the run.
That's when I see the monks on the wall, their simple beautifully full
faces minimalistically sketched in gold. As I look closer the light
seems to play tricks with my eyes. The sketch lines seem to
raise. They stand away from the wall. Suddenly, as in the
abracadabra moment of a great magician's act, I see the
It's not gold. They're not sketched. Each monk's face is
from a dozen eucalyptus leaves mounted to the wall with two sewing pins
per leaf. It's a group of monks sketched in gold ... it's a bunch of
eucalyptus leaves ... it's a group of monks sketched in gold ... it's a
... bunch of eucalyptus leaves.
I'm nurtured in the
Among works of this caliber I'm more than nurtured: I'm
rejuvenated too. I've just gotten through the thought "it
doesn't get any better than this" when my eyes lock on the
burning typewriter* ... and I'm instantly
riveted. I see it and in the same split second I get it. There's no
intermediate filter of understanding, no maze of explanation, no veil
All that's bypassed. It's a direct shot to the heart and I'm smitten.
It's an Underwood typewriter. On fire. And I'm a writer. That's it.
No further comment.
I pause in front of it, standing at an altar, paying homage.
Now the gallery opens into a
room which occupies the entire second of three floors. Here's the
I've ever seen: thirty foot long, twelve foot high. To
this work the artist laid it down then walked on it, pouring rich
directly from cans in lines onto the medium. Here's another giant
at least a hundred square feet. Black and brown leafy lines suggest a
rabbit's eye view (or a turtle's?) looking out from the protection of a
bush onto a thicket. Now here's a series of works of modern art.
They don't depict anything explicit. Modern art often doesn't. But
their colors, lines, composition, and overall je ne sais
quoi are in cool stressless balance and please me.
As I turn away from the modern art I'm almost stopped in my tracks by
the busiest display I've ever seen in any gallery ahead of
me. As I walk towards it I'm thinking: whirlpool? ...
... food blender?
Whatever it is, it has a lot of movement.
It's another big piece mounted on a square with twelve foot sides. It
must weigh a ton. Close up it's a collage of brightly colored metal
pieces. Aluminum, I think, but maybe something else.
They're cut (by arc torch?) into rough circles, esses, straights. It's
... well ... exciting, but I don't get what it's telling me.
For the second time I confer with the gallery catalog. Oh,
Wow! It's not a whirlpool,
or food blender. None of the above. It's a race track! The
artist is a NASCAR race driver. The "metal" is really cut from the
shells of crashed race cars. The colorful paint
is race car
And the movement is obvious. I've watched motor racing up
close. I was there when Werner drove a Formula Continental Argo
Super Vee to win the Gold Cup for the Breakthrough Racing
team. I watch Formula One from time to time on TV. Amazingly this
piece captures all that world perfectly - in the abstract.
I turn the corner, facing a long corridor down one entire side of the
art gallery. The first notion I come up with of what's laid out along
the path is: giant chocolate chips. They're all over the floor -
whatever they are. I'm planning a route through: where to step, which
line to take. I pause, standing among them, examining them closely.
They do resemble chocolate chips after being baked into
cookies (except each is about a foot across): some of them are melted
asymmetrically, some of them have cracked from the heat. They're rich,
dark cocoa colored and textured. I have no idea what they are, how
or what (if anything) they're supposed to represent. I'm fascinated.
A storyboard on the wall and a video let me in on the secret. They're
melted rocks. Melted rocks? How?
The artist goes to the seashore, I read, wading into the ocean looking
for appropriate rocks which he marks with colored rope. Then at low
tide he returns to collect the bounty. Of course! He's a rock
harvester, I think - both amused and enraptured, totally
fascinated. He then melts the rocks in a kiln, a process requiring a
temperature in excess of five thousand degrees.
The last time these rocks experienced heat like that was when they were
magma, possibly millions of years ago.
The third floor of the art gallery houses a collection of digital works
of art. Now there's two concepts you don't often speak in
the same sentence: "digital" and "works of art". One of them, a four
foot by two foot LED screen oriented portrait not
landscape, simply displays, one at a time, changing every
second, the endless digits of pi.
Opposite, a window built into a gable in the roof looks out on the
world, onto the
nestled in the bucolic setting amidst the gently rolling hills covered
with the tapestry of vineyards and lakes. I stroll over, rest my
elbows on the sill, my chin on my fists, and gaze out. In a moment of
sudden, deep insight it comes to me that the most fabulous
work of art of them all, the only truly priceless one, the
I love and adore, is outside the window ...
The next exhibit takes my breath away. On a scale of one to big,
the stylized spear is enormous. Its haft is a roughly dressed tree
trunk, fifty foot long, two foot in diameter. Its business
end is a shiny welded metal tip about six foot long. The tip
is bound to the trunk by a swath of hessian, as if bandaged.
("How interesting", my mind chatters, "the weapon has a bandage ...").
It's the quintessential instrument. For me it harkens to the
bone in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey". Its
sheer size confirms what the Pentagon's actions have already taught us:
how off course we've drifted now that weaponry is our
largest expense with no other line item even coming close. It's the
artist's gift to us that we can even begin to muster compassion for our
lost priorities, within a
of art and
When I dream up the name "Crowd" for the next exhibit I'm attracted to,
comprising a standing series of sixteen almost lifelike
and lifesize figures, it doesn't surprise me one iota when I consult
the gallery catalog for the third and final time to discover "Crowd" is
indeed its name. They're not quite statuettes. They're not quite
sculptures. Not alarmingly they're headless. They're hollow. They're
only the front of the body (I can tell because I peek
I love "Crowd" even though (unlike some of the other works) it's no
mystery how it was
Obviously someone very generously laid down nude on their back,
allowing the artist to drape them with a kind of burlap
papier-mâché. Sixteen generous layings and gellings
later (it's clear its the same model for each "Crowd" member) the stood
upright work is complete.
This exhibit almost cries out "We're all the same!" and I love that
When I first see
it's love at first sight. But it's not the kind of titillating puppy
love tinged with lust for which only my body, not I, can take any
credit. Johanna boldly enters, uninvited, my very soul. She's in me and
she's in me so deep and so profound and so sudden that all I can do is
gape. An eternity goes by in a moment before I begin to realize how
much I want her in me, this at first uninvited intruder.
Johanna is in a large frame nine foot high by seven foot wide. She's
more than simply real. She's super real. She's
so real. She's a photograph. A huge photograph. But a
photograph nonetheless. I have to get up to her as close as the STAND
BACK gallery signs allow me in order to scrutinize her composition. And
I'm rendered speechless when it slowly dawns on me she's not a
photograph at all. She's a
Every strand of her hair is perfectly
And Johanna has wavy long blond hair - lots of hair. Every
tuft of the peach fuzz on her regal chin and neck is
Her eyes are so realistic there could be a human being behind the
peering out through them. I'm guessing it took this extraordinary
artist five or six years of painstaking eighteen hour days to
She's at the center of the top floor of the art gallery. She's the
pièce de résistance of these physics of
Having the good fortune to lay my eyes on her, I know my life will
never be the same again.
Johanna II** by
The Hess Collection, Mount Veeder, California, USA
I breathe deep the cool spring air as I, elated and inspired, turn my
back on this extraordinary collection and walk away from the building,
down the rustic path lined with rockeries and ivy, gravel again
crunching underfoot. What I notice about this experience, about walking
through this awesome art gallery, about walking through this
this laboratory for the physics of
isn't personal. The idea that some people are more
than others, that some people have an access to
others don't have is simply fallacious.
Clearly it's true some have exercised their
creativitymuscle more than others. But
isn't personal any more than arms or legs are personal. The question to
ask is this: what's our access to
There's the pithy
tale about the novice monk visiting the Roshi, ostensibly to
The Roshi offers tea. The novice accepts. The Roshi pours tea into a
clay cup. He pours. He keeps on pouring. Soon the cup overflows. He
keeps on pouring. Tea drenches the tablecloth, dripping on to the
floor. He keeps on pouring.
Eventually the novice can't stand it anymore. "Stop pouring!" he
implores the Roshi. "The cup is already full!".
"Like that", says the Roshi, "how can I give you
when you're already full?".
in this delightfully eye opening exchange, and you may see our access
ie our access to allowing something new to come in is to
Here in this bucolic setting amidst the gently rolling hills covered
with the tapestry of the vineyards and the lakes, I pause, smiling,
savoring the deliciousness of a freshly minted