We are always on the lookout for the hidden gems nestled in our part of the world. What a surprise to find a treasure trove in a book written by Larry Burns, Secret Inland Empire, a Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure. It offers no less than ninety weird and wonderful places to check out for creativity and artistry in the IE. Much of this is public art, accessible to everyone and created by local artists who continue to give the area its unique energy.
In the area roughly bounded by San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, these “secrets” might be well known curiosities, such as the Macdonald’s Museum created by the founder of the Juan Pollo restaurants, Albert Okura. Or the Mitla Cafe, originator of the hard taco, which was then appropriated by Glen Bell who used it to found the Taco Bell empire. Or the holiday spirit along Euclid Avenue in Upland and certainly the Sam Maloof house in Alta Loma. But for many of us, these will be wonderful discoveries.
Three artists gathered on June 2 at the invitation of Larry Burns to share their thoughts on the arts in the IE. The Inlandia Institute sponsored the event held at the Culver Center at the UCR Arts Block in Riverside. It hosted Cathy Allen, Phil Yeh, a muralist and cartoonist, and Luke Jackson, a curator and entrepreneur who bridges the gap between art and commerce. Burns himself is a booster who teaches at Riverside Community College and South New Hampshire University.
They find inspiration in the Inland Empire. Cathy Allen loves the desert air and the light. Allen is a mixed media assemblage artist who also teaches at Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree. Her installation, Sunvale Village is clearly inspired by the Noah Purifoy Museum where 10 acres of space hold some 15 years of work. Purifoy believed that art can inspire and empower people. Allen herself, who sometimes conducts tours there, carries that inspiration with her when she leaves.
Phil Yeh is a graphic artist and muralist who has traveled the world painting and who founded Cartoonists Across America and the World. They have painted some 1700 murals in the US, promoting literacy and have pledged to travel the world continuing this project. Yeh has been working for seven years on “The World’s Most Detailed Mural” at the Madonalds Museum in San Bernardino. He is inspired by Sam Maloof and by the Bottle Tree Ranch, but above all by the art and creativity of the IE.
“It’s hidden away,” he said, “not really publicized.” Which is not surprising in the IE, after all, the purpose of art is to express yourself, to do whatever you want.
Some of the art is ephemeral, fleeting. Luke Jackson is inspired by the people who create such art, the graffiti artists. “You can follow a train track or a canal or push open a door to an abandoned building and find some really cool stuff.”
“Young people head out to the middle of nowhere, spend six or seven hours in a small space in the dark, to compete for bragging rights,” he said, “but in that space, the art became better and better.” Jackson saw the passion that drives the work. He realized these kids were not gang members intent on vandalism but artists with no place to go. And in the brief moments when they created a beautiful thing, there was no monetary value in it, in fact you could go to jail.
“But in those brief moments where there’s a beautiful thing, you know you will never see it again unless you snap a picture of it. I’m inspired by people who are willing to do that.”
This art, Burns agrees, is inspiring and expresses the values of the community in all its diversity. While graffiti art can be beautiful, it can also be a form of “adolescent politics,” Jackson noted. Jackson himself runs Mind and Mill, a work and networking space that includes a gallery and resources for artists. And Cathy Allen uses only “found” or discarded materials to create her art in Sunvale Village. Secret Inland Empire also includes the Edward-Dean Museum, Donkeyland, the Friendship Tower at Mt. Rubidoux and so much more. Check it out! We certainly will!