High Culture in the High Desert

David Hockney's "Pearblossom Highway #2."

I make collages. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. I hang the larger ones in our garage – our collage garage. I collage because I can’t paint.

David Hockney creates collages, but unlike me, he can paint. Boy, can he paint! And instead of hanging his works in his garage, they are housed in the leading art museums of the world.

The official name of my favorite Hockney collage is Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18 April 1986, #2. It’s a large work assembled from nearly 800 individual photographs taken from a lonely road that crosses Pearblossom Highway (California 138) in the Antelope Valley.

The collage’s setting is a familiar one to anyone who has ever driven through the Mojave Desert, with lots of brown sand, blue sky, and otherworldly Joshua Trees. The only colors to break the landscape’s monotony are the reflective yellows on a “Stop Ahead” sign and double-center line, a green “California 138” sign, the white “Stop Ahead” lettering on the highway, a red “Stop” sign, and multi-colored beer bottles and flattened soft drink cans that litter the sides of the road.

Recently when I was driving along Pearblossom Highway I got to wondering where the photographs were actually shot. Was the intersection still recognizable, or was it covered with tract housing? I did some web searches when I got home, but sometimes Google isn’t as omniscient as advertised, and the location eluded all of my searches. I printed out a copy of the photo-mosaic and jumped into the car. It was time for a road trip.

My wife Kim and I motored up the Antelope Freeway to the Pearblossom Highway exit and turned east. As we neared the town of Pearblossom, the landscape started to look more and more like the collage. The proprietor of a local art gallery thought the intersection was just a couple of miles away at 165th Street. We thanked him and proceeded east.  

As we neared the intersection, we both sensed that the completion of our quest was at hand. I turned left, pulled a U-turn, and parked about a hundred feet from the intersection. We took a long look, turned to each other, high-fived, and then kissed. This was the place.

The road looked to be in better condition and a bit less lonely than it appeared in 1986. There was still litter along its sides, but on this particular day I spotted more Red Bull cans than beer bottles.

But the most obvious change was the absence of the landmark “Stop” and “Stop Ahead” signs. They had both been replaced a few years ago with a traffic light when the 138 was widened to four-lanes.

 I wonder if the highway workers who removed the signs had any idea they were dismantling cultural icons?

The site today.

About deadwrite

Freelance writer, film historian, taphophile View all posts by deadwrite

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