East JesusCharles Stephen Russell (1965 - 2011)
About the Artist/Site
Hoping to assist Leonard Knight with his monumental work Salvation Mountain, Charles Stephen Russell (known as Charlie) quit his job in the technology sector, packed his belongings into a shipping container and his two art cars, and moved to the Niland, California area in early 2007. Upon his arrival at the Mountain, he discovered the adjacent community of Slab City, a haphazard landing spot for snowbirds, drifters, and other folks in search of “The Last Free Place.” Russell established a plot on the northwestern edge of the “Slabs” and dubbed it East Jesus—a colloquial term for the middle of nowhere—though the name does present thoughtful continuity with the original site of inspiration, Salvation Mountain.
In the following years, Russell worked industriously to create a complex of administrative, artistic, communal, and entertainment spaces, including a performance area with a grand piano. His own artwork that he had brought with him to East Jesus became the foundation for what is now a large outdoor sculpture park called the Art Garden, featuring work by 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, and Ryan Wells.
Sustainability is at the core of the Art Garden’s mission as all of the work presented has been created from found objects and materials that have been fantastically repurposed to form all manner of creatures, from an imposing rubber tire mastodon to circling sheet metal sharks. A large installation of old television sets stacked in a grid and painted with evolving political messages like, most recently, “fake news” and “white people yelling at each other” create one of the Garden’s most iconic and powerful moments—as well as the most Instagrammable background. Humor is infused throughout the site with pieces like an amorous pair of Volkswagen Beetles and an art car at the entrance decorated with nude dolls who appear to be enjoying the ride. Other pieces lean toward the enigmatic like the large architectural structure toward the edge of the Garden consisting of a colorfully-obscured glass hallway that leads into a circular room made of doors, each with a unique facade, seemingly suggesting an opportunity to “choose your own adventure.”
Though it presents an incredibly idiosyncratic collection of work, the Garden is created in the spirit of cooperation. None of the work is individually labeled, and though surely carefully curated, the site comes together as an installation that is much more than the sum of its parts. In fact, the Chasterus Foundation, a 501c3 organization formed to carry the mission of East Jesus forward after Russell’s death in 2011, describes the site as a “unique collaborative canvas” and their purpose as maintaining and protecting it “for the enjoyment, expression, and inspiration of artists of all mediums.”
The creative output of those visiting, working, and/or living at East Jesus functions in tandem with its dedication to operate as sustainably as possible, working toward “a world without waste.” The site employs batteries and solar panels for energy, composts human and food waste, and investigates assorted castoff building materials to continue establishing increasingly economically- and environmentally-friendly structures for living and working. All of these modes of creative experimentation combine to “inspire people to see beyond what something is, and instead see what it can be, just as Charlie Russell did when he looked over the desolate field of long abandoned scrap metal and wood that he turned into East Jesus.”
Visitors are welcome 365 days a year from dawn to dusk at East Jesus, though it is imperative to make contact before planning to camp overnight. East Jesus also welcomes applications for artist residents. The short-term residency includes lodging, studio space, and skills training. Visit the website for more information about how to apply.
found objects, cars, scrap metal, discarded building materials
Map & Site Information
E Jesus Road
Niland, CA, 92257 us
Latitude/Longitude: 33.2630495 / -115.4660136
Borrego Springs, California
Mountain Empire, California
Twentynine Palms, California