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High Desert High: Noah’s Art

November 28, 2011

The NOAH PURIFOY SCULPTURE GARDEN in Joshua Tree is well-served by its setting: the surrounding vastness, the endless sky and the roaring silence of the desert, all allow the artist’s voice to speak to the viewer directly. And, without the intrusion of nameplates, wary guards and gawking crowds, it’s easy to get lost in the work and read into the pieces one’s own thoughts … There’s so much here to see and feel that I was overwhelmed, taking over 500 photos. It goes without saying that I loved it, was moved by the work and found the artist’s voice irresistible … I hope you enjoy these glimpses into this amazing artistic triumph … and as with others, click once, then again on each photo for a much-closer look …

No way in

Many of the pieces in the sculpture garden reference buildings, as well as institutions, like this little church-like wooden piece. Not a little unsteady, with its cross askew … its lack of windows and doors forbid entry as well as interaction with the outside world. Note the tiny crescent moon in the sky near the cross …


More structures; most invite the viewer to come inside. Some are rustic and inspired by Native American dwellings; at least one seems post-Hellenic, and one is painted whimsical colors in honor of the little girl that inspired it (the small daughter of a fellow artist). Walking through these spaces, I see tableaux of family life, of solitary lives spent waiting to die, of bizarre institutional and mechanical rituals, and private moments probably not meant to be seen.


This amazing cubist bungalow-on-stilts glowed in the afternoon sun. It seemed to have just returned from a planet where geometric forms dominate and the interlocking plane is favored by even the common folk.

'White House'

A huge funhouse of creaking plywood and precariously-perched bowling balls, this piece called ‘White House’ was both scary and hilarious … Full of amazing friezes, stacks and assemblages, with metal arches and random stairways, it ends with an enclosed room of multiple toilets perched one atop the other, with seats mounted and gaping on a plywood wedge. Political statement? I say, hell yes.


Arches that seem to be moving with an invisible wind lead to the mysterious found-object doors of this quonset-type building. Again, an otherworldly, interplanetary mission is implied … I can’t help but wonder what exactly is behind those  magnificent sliding metal doors.


A tiny shingled fulcrum for two playful bicycles; a billboard-like grid of discarded computer boards; a three-dimensional scribble painting in tangled metal garden chairs;  a row of spectator shins — complete with pants and boots — on scaffolding … singular sights and free-standing sculptures. Each is audacious and delightful in their own right …


Stacked and mounted bowling balls make like sentries, reaching alarming heights with the help of concrete and wood. Simple materials have become totemic and imbued with new purpose.

Going places

A simple cart loaded with folding metal chairs waits to deliver the newly-saved to the river for baptism, unmindful of the surrounding dryness … elsewhere a preposterous railway meanders, its cars an unsteady combination of bicycle wheels, beer kegs and dryer piping: all aboard!

And, you are ... ?

Many of the sculptures, although hardly representational of human beings, seem like someone I’ve met before. They include: that too-cerebral guy who has one point of view, and only one; three messy friends who refuse to grow up; a lonely desert denizen who collects cans for pocket change and haunts the Circle K before his disability check arrives on the 1st; Miss Stands-On-Ceremony; and the collector of metal objects (he loves their shape, rust and former purpose; namely: me).


Assorted Machines of Esoteric Function make a stand in the landscape. Their purposes seem, by turns, friendly and sinister … some of these hulk and bluster while others seem in need of a repairman who’ll never arrive.


The most affecting piece was this simple, circular pile of discarded shoes … they read as victims, or as having belonged to victims. Very unsettling and frighteningly intense in the quiet … curling and trying to hide from the sun, these shoes seem like society’s human discards.


This post is in no way representative of what-all the sculpture garden has to offer. I was forced to leave out a lot … but please, go … it’s beyond fantastic! Although the garden is taken care of by the Noah Purifoy Foundation, there’s a fragility about the entire site; I know that it can survive only so many years in the unearthly heat and freezing cold of the the Mojave Desert’s extreme temperatures … it would be a shame to miss it; I can’t wait to go again!

Click here for the Noah Purifoy Foundation‘s website, including map and directions.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Vickie permalink
    November 29, 2011 4:18 am

    Wow!!! It amazes me the places the creative drive takes folks. I always want to ask them what it was that took them thru the whole trip… start to finish… It always inspires me to have a peek at this part of the creative mind… Thanks again!!!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 29, 2011 4:22 am

      I share your amazement, Vickie, and feel honored to witness the work artists like Purifoy are driven to produce. Thanks for your comment!

  2. November 29, 2011 5:22 pm

    Wow Ruben, thanks so much for posting that, I am going to try to come out that way and see the art in person. maybe Ruth and I can come, or maybe we could wrangle the husbands and Ruth’s son I think it would be a great trip to make.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 29, 2011 5:25 pm

      Omigod, you will go insane, Johanna! It’s beyond, in every sense of the word, my pics and post do not do it justice …

  3. November 30, 2011 3:58 pm

    a “planet where geometric forms dominate and the interlocking plane is favored.” Planet Reubidoux? I loved reading this as much as the pictures. (There is an enormous quonset hut in Signal Hill that I imagine living in, but the ground it sits on is no doubt a Superfund site.) I’d love to see this sculpture garden at twilight.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 30, 2011 4:04 pm

      Thanks, Denise… We got to the sculpture garden so late I was afraid it would be twilight! Maybe that’s for the return trip; btw I know the Quonset hut you speak of and I love it too!

  4. Donna permalink
    November 30, 2011 10:59 pm

    I am now thoroughly convinced that I have no imagination whatsoever! I couldn’t read that WELCOME sign. I couldn’t see any beauty in a bunch of junk in the middle of the desert. You have a beautiful soul Reuben. Keep seeing beauty in the world, maybe I can be inspired by continually reading your blog.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 30, 2011 11:07 pm

      Wow, Donna, don’t be so hard on yourself! Finding delight in “junk in the middle of the desert” is something that for some people must be cultivated. The important thing is to LOOK, because if you don’t, you can’t SEE … whether you actually go someplace, find it in a book or chance upon it walking down the street, keep your eyes open and look. If you do that you’ll find yourself amazed at how you suddenly are seeing something normally considered “junk” as beautiful … And, do keep reading the blog and commenting! I love hearing from people with differing points-of-view …

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