Monday, June 4, 2018

Giant Purple Cactus

-Neal Lucas Hitch, Artist-in-Residence

The latest installation of desert-sized art at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum is the interpretive execution of a child's rendering of a purple prickly pear cactus brought to life.  Now a trio of brightly-painted sculptures, these large cactus give new life as defining characteristics on the landscape and greet visitors to our desert.

The cactus are made of rebar-supported plywood.  During construction museum staff tested multiple ply materials to determine the optimum deformation of the sculpture in the wind. As residents of the area know, Ocotillo is no stranger to high winds.  Gusts exceeding 45 miles per hour are common experiences, and are always a consideration in new construction: this land of extremes requires extreme installations.  Against this, building three desert-sized art pieces, each essentially acting as its own sail in the wind, was no small task.

Lucas takes a break in the shade of his cactus before painting
The result is a kinetic sculpture that gently sways in the wind like a real cactus.  Its upper areas are painted an assortment of bright colors, designed to reflect the life and diversity of the real purple prickly pear cactus, and to be just as eye-catching in its presence. Getting up close to it, visitors will see an even greater detail.  The base of the sculpture is covered in a mosaic made from hundreds of pottery sherds, collected from failed pit firings of pottery first made by children at the museum.  Their inclusion speaks to the nature and success of the desert itself: everything comes from something and the desert is a place of infinite resourcefulness and repurpose.

As with all museum installations, the giant cactus will be added on to over time.  Coming soon will be a small kiosk or sign explaining the art, as well as a landscaped trail guiding visitors the short distance from the road over the wash to the sculptures.  Small solar lights to spotlight the statues at night have already been added. Museum staff have seen many people stop by to admire the cactus and take pictures of them, and we hope this exciting trend continues! If you snap a picture, consider sharing it on social media and tagging the museum, and let’s get the hashtag #giantpurplecactus trending online!

Desert-sized art before paint

Desert-sized art after paint

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