Wednesday, January 30, 2013

February Excerpt: Genius or Folly? by Marianne Werner

Genius or Folly?
Marianne Werner
PHOTO: Marianne Werner

At face value it may seem like folly. But beyond its bizarre incompleteness, its exaggerated surrealistic orchids, and its concrete carcasses of sculpture, is an unimaginable outdoor museum, hidden inconspicuously in a tropical jungle high in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico.

Spend hours meandering in dense, seductively growing rainforest foliage; uncover unique flowers beneath enormous hanging leaves; follow staircases to nowhere while gazing up through multiple stories of massive architectural dinosaurs: you will experience nothing short of a triple E ticket at Disneyland, as a friend and I did when we recently visited Las Pozas. Reflecting on the uninhibited awe we both had felt during our wanderings while pausing at the clear, blue-tinted pools of Edward James’ dream-creation, Kate remarked, “Who says he’s not a poet?”

Las Pozas (the pools) is the result of the creative imagination of Edward James combined with the cultural spirit and hard work of indigenous people of Mexico living in the mountainous jungle area that lured him because of its natural beauty and magical ambience. Over the course of several decades, his vision of paradise came to life as huge surreal concrete forms that rose from the rainforest surrounding gorgeous natural pools near the village of Xilitla (He-LEET -la) in the state of Huasteca, north of Vera Cruz. What remains today is evocatively fascinating: incredible sculptures that rise mystically from thick rainforest growth, perhaps one of the most underappreciated architectural feats of modern times.

James was born in 1907 in Scotland to parents whose enormous wealth enabled him to have a lifetime of privilege, and early on he became a lifelong patron of the arts. His own youthful creativity was thwarted by Stephen Spender’s critical review of his collection of poems, The Bones of My Hands. He became particularly enmeshed in the Surrealistic movement that began in the early 1920’s and was a sponsor and supporter of Salvador Dali and RenĂ© Magritte. However, Avery Danziger, in his 2009 documentary Edward James, Builder of Dreams, states “… he was not a surrealist. Rather it was his life as he lived it that was surreal.”

As fond as he was of the Surrealists, over time James tired of patronage, and he began searching for his own artistic outlet. That search came to fruition when he visited Mexico in the mid-1940’s. During his travels he befriended a young man, Plutarco Gastelum, and the evolving lifelong friendship between the two was to become a driving force behind realization of James’ dream. Under Gastelum’s guidance, James purchased 80+ acres in the Mexican jungle near Xilitla.

If you would like to read more of this article in Empirical, the February issue is now available at your local bookstore and online at our website.

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