Robin Urton: dimensional paintings on glass

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Las Pozas
In the Mexican rainforest is a remote mountain village called Xilitla,
home to the extraordinary surrealist architecture of Edward James

 


I happened to find out about Edward James and his bizarre constructions in Mexico when I was surfing channels one evening and landed on a PBS airing of a documentary called Edward James: Builder of Dreams. I was captivated instantly. I had never heard of such a place, and my interest escalated as I learned more about Edward James, who was once the world's largest collector of Surrealist art. Born into extreme wealth, he turned his back on the conventions of upper class English society, eventually following his dream to build his own surrealist fantasy within what is already a surreal and fantastic landscape - in the rainforests of central Mexico. Entranced, I decided I had to see it for myself.



Built next to a series of cascading waterfalls, Las Pozas derives its name from "the pools" which his workmen created at the site. Locals from the area come to swim and dive, but the real interest is in the fantasy-oriented architecture and sculptures, which are strewn across 80 acres, connected by meandering stone paths. Wandering through Las Pozas is a true adventure because there are no signs pointing you to each of the constructions, and the forest obstructs your sight of them. Each time you come to a cropping of sculpture or architecture, it takes you by surprise.

 

Some of my favorite architectural forms were the gates I encountered at Las Pozas. Entering them sets up a sense of expectation for being led into another world, another dimension of its creator's imagination. There are even gates in parts of the forest where there is no other architecture, leaving one to wonder about its purpose there. It is then that one contemplates the purpose of a gate not only as an entrance into a specific place, but as an entrance into a state of mind, which I believe was Edward James' intention.



Another thing that I find interesting about Las Pozas is is complete integration with its natural surroundings. It both imitates and strives to compete with nature. Many of the forms are now covered in lichen and moss, and here and there a bromeliad clings to the cement forms. It is very possible that the rain-forest will soon overtake the creations of Las Pozas. Avery Danziger, the creator of the documentary film about Las Pozas,commented that "Edward James took Las Pozas from the forest, and now the forest is taking it back". This quote came to mind several times as I wandered through its structures.

Most of the buildings are left unfinished, leaving one to ponder what else would have been added, had its creator completed it before moving on to his next construction. In a video-taped interview within the film, Mr. James speaks of the conviction that "one should never finish the building of one's house" - that it should always be in the process of creation.

 


All of the sculptural forms within Las Pozas were created with wood molds, filled with steel-reinforced concrete. Some of the pigment is within the concrete, and other parts are painted. I find the molds themselves to be as fascinating as the sculpture. Many of the molds still hang in the "Form Store", a house within the grounds of Las Pozas. I also saw a couple displayed at the hotel where I stayed, at El Castillo. This was the home of Plutarco Gastelum, who was Edward James' manager and friend - his co-partner in the creation of Las Pozas.



Staying at El Castillo is an adventure in itself, and I highly recommend it if you plan to visit Las Pozas. It is obvious that Edward James had some part in its design, as many of the architectural elements echo those which are found in Las Pozas. I marveled at the beauty contained within its garden walls. It is nothing like any of the other local architecture (most of which are concrete block buildings). Its accommodations are comfortable and truly unique!


 

More information on Las Pozas, Edward James, and El Castillo can be found on the following website:

http://www.junglegossip.com

 

The surrounding mountain villages will also be of interest toany traveler who wants to see the real Mexico.
Nestled within the mountains are village farms and ranches, and many a photographic opportunity.

All photos are copyright of Robin Urton.

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