Photos and videos

muse 01.


During the 1990s I was living in the garage of my house, and renting out the main part. This worked well for me: I was able to travel to Mexico and write my books. I had very little money, but had become expert at living frugally. My voyages south, by motorcycle, bus, and train, became a way of shifting my consciousness. I was going into a different world, a world in which there was only one thing of importance--my art. The voyages themselves were a kind of exploration. I "discovered" my novels in the streets of Xalapa and Patzcuaro, in Manzanillo and Guanajuato. I figured that at some point I would find a place to live there, and leave America behind entirely. But I could not find a place to live. Nothing seemed quite suitable. I kept returning to my garage in California.

The garage had a bare concrete floor, stained by grease and oil. The walls had exposed studs, the ceiling exposed rafters, no insulation. Winters were very cold, the summers hot. I had a rudimentary bathroom, small regrigerator, a gas stove, a bed. One day, staring at my surroundings, I decided I had to do something. If I were going to spend time here, I had to create a certain ambience. There needed to be beauty around me.

I put up drywall. For insulation, I stuffed newspaper in the walls. With the help of a friend, Wayne, I built a closet. The result, of course, was a bland box of a room. More comfortable, but hardly interesting.

I had made a practice of riding my motorcycle, on hot summer days, to Oak Glen, a nearby mountain community. Often I would stop at the Edward-Dean museum. Its collection of antique furniture and decorative arts intrigued me. I noticed a table and desk made from "papier mache"--but not the flimsy papier mache I was familiar with. This had been made from a mash of paper mixed with horse glue, then pressed into forms where it dried as hard as wood. It could be painted, drilled, sanded.

I began to experiment with my own version of this papier mache. I experimented with different glues, different processes. I decided to transform my bare walls. I would make a series of bas reliefs. I had long been conscious of the role of the muse in my life and art. The muse was a strange, haunting, difficult, archetypal figure. Conjuring the muse was a complicated matter. I had always used women--women I had known slightly, women I had seen in passing. I had never been successful in using girlfriends as muses: real women are, after all, real women, and not demi-goddesses. I was only sucessful using women I did not know well and with whom I no longer had any relationship. I could carry their image with me into Mexico, for instance, and use this image as a window into the Underworld, the archetypal world, where my novels existed. But what would happen if I created her image on my walls? What if I lived among images of her? My photography had always been a kind of exploration of aspects of the muse. I could create bas reliefs of her and hang photos and even drawings of her on all my walls. What would then happen? Perhaps I would find myself able to write here--and no longer need to go to Mexico. Or perhaps these images would call forth, in some synchronistic way, a woman who would be my human muse. I felt excited and hopeful.

I had never been a sculptor. I had to learn everything. I worked compulsively. The muses appeared on two walls. On another wall I placed images of the balam, the jaguar-magician of the Maya. I hung masks. I put down a tile floor. The room, I think, is quite beautiful. My relationship, however, with the muse, remains difficult....

Hall Figure