December 29, 2007

This is an interesting story. Oft told apparently, but I've never heard it. Sounds like it would be a cool place to see.

The story of how Edward James (1907-84), the millionaire poet, painter and patron to the Surrealists, escaped to Mexico to build a garden in the jungle has often been told. The famously eccentric James – known for boiling his paper clips in eau de cologne for fear of germs – moved to Mexico in the late 1930s to escape judgemental English high society after the collapse of his marriage to the dancer Tilly Losch.

There, on a hillside deep in the Sierra Madre jungle, outside the town of Xilitla, James spent 40 years building Las Pozas (The Pools), a name that refers to the focal point of the garden – nine pools filled by a natural waterfall. Here James designed and built a sprawling Surrealist-inspired garden full of large, colourful sculptures and more than 30 fanciful concrete structures, some over 100ft high, where James lived intermittently surrounded by pet ocelots and boa constrictors.

Since his death, however, Las Pozas has been slowly losing the battle against the elements and the dense, encroaching foliage: James would probably have delighted in the paradox that his sculptures are actually feeding the jungle that is destroying them. Concrete paths wind through the damp forest, with gnarled roots forcing themselves between the cracks. Plants growing around the structures are nourished by minerals in the green moss and lichen that covers them. Epiphyte roots dangle down from the structures, filtering the afternoon light. One imagines that the place, in its semi-decayed state and completely in tune with the surrounding jungle, is now more beautiful than ever. This is the most striking aspect of Las Pozas: the synchronicity of the creation with its environment. Art and nature are so intertwined that it’s often hard to tell the difference between a concrete column and a tree trunk.

It was obvious that the jungle was going to win in the end, however. ...
....

Salvador Dalí described Edward James as “crazier than all the Surrealists put together. They pretend, but he is the real thing.” According to Avery Danziger, who lived in Xilitla and made an evocative film about James entitled Builder of Dreams, he hired a composer to write a requiem for his dying alligator, and shipped his animals around in crates marked “spare parts”. Danziger understands James, above all else, as an entertainer. “He had a strange sensibility,” he says. “His love of things was for their surface. He loved animals, but it wasn’t a real love, it was more for entertainment.”

Accounts such as these have made James into something of a cult figure. Irene Herner, an art historian and admirer of Las Pozas, is, however, keen for the foundation to see beyond these anecdotes, and resist the temptation to preserve Las Pozas as a shrine to the personality of Edward James. Las Pozas is very much part of the local life in Xilitla and local children come daily to swim and frolic in the freezing pools....

...

Considering the bold nature of its creator, the ambitious ideas flying round the November meeting for the future of Las Pozas did not seem out of place. Positive spirit is rife in Mexico and it was here, after all, that James was able to build these extraordinary designs with nothing more than imagination and manpower. When he proposed to make a simple pond out of coloured concrete at Monkton, his house in West Sussex, the gardener told him that it simply wouldn’t work.

No one knows what James had in mind for the future of Las Pozas. He once said he wanted it to be discovered as the ruins of an ancient civilisation, and in another 20 years, if it were not for the vision of Hernández and the work of this new foundation, that is probably what would have happened.

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