Postcards From Marfa

13th January, 2015

“Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveler. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.” ~ Fernando Pessoa

The new year is a time for reflection, for reshuffling the deck and resetting our intention, our approach, our mind, our power. For me, it’s an important time to get far, far away from my everyday life, to reevaluate the way I’ve been using my energy and take a thoughtful look at the stories I’m telling myself. It’s all in our heads, after all.

As a child of the American Southwest, open desert landscapes are always a healing salve to my city-soaked soul, and I chose to commemorate this year’s trip around the sun the same way I’ve done many times before: by driving west, through the mountainous wilds of West Texas, to camp out for a few days on the frigid Marfa plateau.
Marfa2It’s one of those places that just keeps beckoning me back, for it’s a scenery that recalls many happy memories: of family road trips as a kid, when I would sketch the sedimentary layers of the passing landscape in crayons from our station wagon’s backseat. Memories of a college adventure when I pitched a tent in Big Bend with a girlfriend ~ driving for days on end with the sunroof open, our bikini strings only sometimes tied. Memories of traveling to Joshua Tree in an RV named Quixote with my creative collaborators, to shoot a fashion campaign. Memories of crossing the country from Los Angeles with my love, on the trip when we spontaneously hopped aboard a train and let it carry us to the edge of the Grand Canyon, when we saw the red rocks of Utah for the very first time.Marfa3These memories hover like smoke from a sage, and yet whenever I head west it’s a new experience entirely. I’m  different every time: asking new questions, listening for new answers. Traveling is essential; we travel so that we might find ourselves. It’s a paradox, in that the further we go, the closer we come to penetrating our self’s center. For me, a trip to Marfa is at once a return to my roots, an exploration of the exotic, and a chance to both dance and be still with my soul.Marfa4Even if you haven’t been to Marfa, you’ve heard about it for sure. It’s that itty bitty Texas town near the Mexican border that improbably dominates headlines all over the art world. It’s where artist Donald Judd retreated to in the 1970’s in order to best set a stage for his massive minimalist sculptures, where the infamous fake Prada store (below right) was erected and where the mysterious ‘Marfa Lights’ are said to shine.

It was settled in the late 19th century as a railroad stop on a broad plateau in the high desert, where timber is scarce. The summers are blisteringly hot and the winters punishingly cold, so its early inhabitants built low, thick-walled adobe dwellings. These structures are marked by a surprising modernity despite their age (many are over a hundred years old!), and the town that’s grown around them has stayed true to their spare style. Minimalism wins in the fierce whirl of desert winds.

It’s an artistic utopia, an anomaly among tiny towns in that it offers both absolute silence and a truly bustling cultural scene. The views are endless and the streets are empty, yet there’s art on every corner and some of the best restaurants west of NYC (if you’re lucky enough to catch one of them open).Marfa5Truly, you can usually count on one hand the number of businesses open in Marfa at any given time ~ and local proprietors generally acknowledge the extremity of their small town system with a tongue-in-cheek wink. To wit, the town’s gas station is called ‘Stripes’, but their attached convenience store closes pretty early, so some local jokester opened up ‘Solids’ (above left) in an old airstream down the street to sell after-hours cigarettes and sundry. Like most of their neighbors, they’re open when they’re open. Sometimes it feels like the grownups got outta dodge and the kids took over the town. Nobody seems to be counting the hours; schedules are for squares.Marfa6Speaking of squares, Marfa wouldn’t be the hot spot on every art-pilgrim’s must-hit list were it not for the aforementioned Donald Judd, whose kilometer-long series of concrete blocks dot the town line’s landscape. Over the last decades of his life, Judd collected dozens of properties around town (old army bunkers, a bank), establishing living and work spaces for himself and redefining what a museum experience could be. Today, his legacy lives on locally (and in international lore) through the Chinati Foundation and the Judd Foundation: two institutions that have borne the weight of Marfa’s fame and enabled its subsequent boom.

Because of Judd’s minimalist vision, a tumbleweed town was transformed into an Arcadia for iconoclastic talents. His 100 Untitled Works in Milled Aluminum (above) seem almost prophetic in this light. There are always at least a hundred ways to do any one thing, and Marfa deliberately redefines the small town, the arts center, Eden. That’s what makes it such a great place to reevaluate your own approach to life. As Alejandro Jodorowsky once wrote, “we are all artists; we just need to begin behaving as such.”Marfa7To see a world in a grain of sand / And heaven in a wild flower / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour ~ from Auguries of Innocence, by William BlakeMarfa8CLICK HERE| for another Southwest road trip

  • Love it!

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  • You have 100% convinced me that I need to go to Marfa

    COOCOO FOR COCO

  • Oh my gosh, I’m from Texas and I still have not been to Marfa. So jelly of these pics 🙂

    — Michelle | MXP STYLE

  • TaMiS ReCreandome

    The pic with the white tree is “to die for”, lovely

  • Nico

    These shots are amazing!

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  • Love these photos!

    Shall We Sasa

  • Lauren Lyons

    Great post! My hubby + I are traveling out west this October. Marfa is certainly in our plans. I’m sure you’ve heard of the new magazine, “Collective Quarterly,” but if not, each issue revolves around a particular place… their first issue (Issue 0), is on Marfa. The photography is beyond gorgeous. The 2nd issue (out now) is on Absaroka, Wyoming. Check it out.

  • Fantastic shots and such a desolate place!

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  • Looks like a cool place!

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  • This looks like the perfect place to recharge for the new year! I headed west this year on a solo road trip, and it was totally worth it. It was liberating, scary, and cleansing all at once. 🙂

  • Ago Prime

    WONDERFUL PHOTO!!

    http://www.agoprime.it

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