California Museum Association Presents EAST JESUS and SALVATION MOUNTAIN Review — Desert Commune

Editor’s Note: Read more reviews of museums here

Oh, to be under blue skies and a hot February sun. Take this feeling and further imagine being surrounded by RVs, colorful signs that read unconventional messages from Free Hugs to U Suck and feel what it’s like to be off-the-grid. Some may call them hippies, but residents here are really just unapologetically disregarding the societal boundaries that tend to heavily influence everyone else. This community is Slab City, California, which welcomes tourists, squatters, and even permanent residents who cannot get enough of its oozing inclusiveness.

To your right, you will see the Slab City gift shop, hosted by musician Jimi Austin James, whose band plays on the community stage every week for whoever wants to hear it. After you inhale the fragrance of incense, he may sell you a shirt of his own design that tells you where you are: The Vip’r Room. He might tell you to check out the bubbling hot spring, just steps away, but don’t worry about the murky color, he says, it’s just the algae. 

If you continue your drive, a few hundred feet ahead, Salvation Mountain reels in your eyes and captivates you for a while. The man-made mountain is coated in gallons of paint of every color of the rainbow. At the forefront reads: God is Love and the rest of the scene consists of Bible verses and more images that visually convey Love. Blue and white stripes lead to the yellow staircase that sits alongside the pigmented forest through which the two-dimensional birds flutter. This mound is a mecca for those who appreciate the time that goes into major art projects in this writer’s view. No matter how religiously affiliated you are, you’re sure to be inspired by Leonard Knight’s vibrant images of love and hope.

The last main sight to see is East Jesus, an outdoor exhibition known for its innovative reuse of thrown away material into abstract sculptures to convey powerful messages. Basically, if you wear your mask and are anyone but Donald Trump, you are welcome to enjoy the dozens of painted televisions, the dismembered manikins, the colorful glass bottles stuck inside walls of cement, and even the wooly mammoth made out of ripped up car tires. These pieces, created by dozens of artists in collaboration with one another, struck this writer as especially profound in their setting of the dry, rocky space that is the Sonoran Desert in California. 

Two of the philosophies that dictate the artists’ work are do as thou wilt and do no harm, which are both to say that they certainly aren’t going anywhere but with the flow. In other words, the artists of East Jesus are dedicated to making the space unapologetically expressive, and although they welcome visitors, they are focused on the sanctity of Slab City. The commune of folks directly around them is what inspires them to continue to create and improvise new pieces. They even have a gift shop where visitors can take an item, under the honor code that they will donate in exchange.

California Museum Association Promotes Local Artists and Recycling of Material in an Agriculturally Vulnerable Region

The sights here, and within Slab City as a whole, create a space wrought in irony: an accepting wasteland, an off-the-grid hot spot, an abundant space of desolation, and an eclectic community of minimalists, visionaries, and misfits.


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Slab City, California


Free, donations requested

Artists of East Jesus: Scott Alan, Leslie Ann Allan, Bruce Bjerke, Ty Bobwowski, Royce Carlson, John Carmel Coco, Clarissa Callesin, Flip Cassidy, Angelina Christina, Aaron Heimann, Joe Holliday, Christopher Illing, Joy Johnson, Jenna K, Shing Yin Khor, Levon Meserlian, Midnight Ridazz, Geneva Mynx, Ari Newman, Manda Nicole, Celeah Norris, Andrew Owen, Michael Rabbitt, Frank Redford, Charles Russell, Robynn Sanders Hale, Sir Pyro Glass, Ellen Skafvenstedt, Heidi Tullman, Johnathan Valles, Ben Wolf, Transit Antenna, Ryan Wells

Artist of Salvation Mountain: Leonard Knight

East Jesus is one of the only art gardens that runs on donations. To donate and to learn more about the space, its message, and the artists, visit East Jesus.

For more information on the inspiration of Salvation Mountain and how to donate, visit Salvation Mountain.

Photos courtesy of Abby Utley and Baylie Luce

Abby Utley

About the Author: Abby Utley

Abby Utley writes as a method of truth-seeking. Getting to the bottom of things is her prerogative, and so is keeping her music playlists fresh. Although she puts originality at the forefront of her written pieces, she finds the most inspiration after immersing herself in other art forms. When she's not writing, you may find her at the rock climbing gym, where she may take a break thirty minutes into her workout to write a satirical article. Finding humor where one may not expect is another one of Abby's prerogatives that allows her to think out of that stingy ole box that so many adults find themselves trapped in. She thinks tapping back into a childlike imagination is something all writers should work towards.

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