The Chihuahuan desert runs north of the Sierra Madres and into Texas just beyond the towns of Ojinaga and Presido one of the most desolate port of entries into the United States I have ever seen. The brittle and prickly earth rises several thousand feet in only 63 miles from the Rio Bravo up into the town of Marfa, one of the art worlds newest and most celebrated outposts for the wanted and the unwanted.
How did Jose Gonzalez find his way to a town a mere three hours from the nearest commercial airport? Our friends at the Ballroom Marfa have been extremely successful in luring great talents into the desert to paint, create and entertain the town folk that have transplanted themselves in the middle of nowhere for the sake of art. The surrounding grasslands and distant mountains suggest a solitude only comparable to that of the great plains of the west. The horizon goes on forever in West Texas.
Mr. Gonzalez, intrigued by the vastness of rural Texas and the international buzz of a burgeoning art center decided the trip was worth his time and made the trek from New York City. My first contact with Jose’s manager was very promising, this particular Take Away Show would be a first for us all. We finally agreed nothing could be lost in the effort. After all, there really couldn’t be a better place for Jose to sit and play his guitar, all alone, as he has done for audiences around the world. What could be more fitting than a simple video concept, in a simple place with a simple, yet unparalleled musician? I could only imagine the beauty of it. Yet I could never know how it would feel being in the presence of such a virtuoso, so simply alone.
Jose sits and he plays his guitar. The Take Away shows I had seen represented movement, so it was a challenge to come up with suitable spaces and places for the shoot. My first choice was Donald Judd’s famous art ranch where enormous aluminum boxes sprawled across an army barrack from another time. The Chinati Foundation, the protector of Judd’s master works, declined my request at my own attempt at minimalist art. One man, one guitar, one camera, one take. They didn’t bite. The preservation of art killed our art. I bet Judd would have been proud to host Jose. But Judd is gone and a board of directors makes the decisions now.
The railroad loading depot must have been out of operation for a hundred years. It looked that way anyhow. Jose trusted me among the splintery planks with a curious smile. I stood on the edge of a silo wall, Jose walked up, the wind blew and blew as I balanced my way around the top of the wall, holding the camera with one hand. The train approached. I couldn’t have timed it if I wanted to. It was the perfect harmony upon the end of the song as the distant whistle blew in the wind. It was one of those surreal sort of moments that we just sort of looked at one another and smiled, wondering where we really were. Marfa or Mars?
The little casita was just that. A dilapidated, adobe house that hadn’t seen man live beneath its roof in decades. The turquoise door did it for me. The rest was just a crumbly piece of art somebody made without knowing it that became the backdrop for a beautiful song. The floor was scattered with garbage and sharp metal objects and walking around was not as quiet as I had imagined, thus the mostly stationary shots.
The strange white rotunda with a 360 degree view of West Texas was atop the county courthouse. The Judge smiled when we asked if we could film and said, “go on up, make yourselves at home”. The acoustics speak for itself. The simple, clean space was our own minimalist impressionism of Marfa. Jose became a Judd-head, a master artist in a barren, lost land and the rest, is now history. Thank you Ballroom Marfa, for bringing life to a strange little town in the middle of nowhere, Texas. Y muchas gracias, Jose. Fue un gran placer a conocerte. Hasta la proxima.