A gift



An animal inside of his brain tells Simi Dabah what to do, he is not in control, the images keep coming to him. Images that turn into monumental iron sculptures, some 30 feet tall, at the rate of 50 or 60 a year. He is 85 years old, and has been creating these striking modernist pieces for 40 years, storing them in his backyard in Joshua Tree. The works are lovely minimal plop art, with an aesthetic of primitive cave drawings, motifs of the south west, reminiscent of the simple rectilinear shapes of minimalist painters like Mondrian and sculptor David Smith, with a bit of Levitated Mass. However, Dabah has no formal art school training, his work comes from some unstoppable place inside of him.


He cannot stop making them, he says, the ideas and images just spill out of him. Scavenging in metal scrap yards in Los Angeles, and wandering through the desert lead Simi to some awesome pieces of wrought iron. Simi and Julie Dabah invite me into their modest minimal desert home, on Sunfair close to the dry lake bed. We are all wearing sweaters because the weather has turned colder all of a sudden, with crisp winter light outlining the mountains in a brighter blue sky. We sit and chat about life, how to be who we want to be in the world, how to make money, and follow our passions. I am inspired by his life, his way with materials, his inability to not make art. 


The couple walks me outside, where there are literally 500 original works! The sculptures look great aginst this backdrop, the wind hits my face and my eyes water, reminding me of late fall days picking apples in Vermont. Simi and Julie tell me his outsider artist life story; no formal training, used to make ceramics, grew up in and around LA. Simi found the desert as a real estate agent; sold lots of property out here in the 60s and 70s, and fell upon this piece of land and home. They spend most of time in LA near Beverly Hills, where Simi welds together the sculptures in an alleyway studio. He has a forklift there and a forklift here, and a large truckbed in between. He has an assistant, Bob, who is works at his desert property once a week. Simi will be included in the highway 62 Art Tours this year.


Simi makes dozens of sculptures every year and GIVES them away. Talking to hime about the function of art in our current world reminds me of one of my favorite books, called The Gift, which is all about how artists create work that falls outside of the dominant capitalistic mode of exchange. Creativity is joyful, and the act of giving something away inherantly ties an object to a person and a process. Simi has donated sculptures to the town of Yucca Valley, the town of 29 Palms, the Motel 6 in 29 Palms, Copper Mountain College(he has a whole sculpture garden there!), College of the Desert, The Hi-Desert Medical Center, and more. His style is unmistakable, I see his work everywhere, he is the creator of work for the public art scene in this desert!


"They blend into the landscape, reflect the desert browns and tans, space..." says his wife. Its true, though I would not have immediatly connected the heavy rusted artworks to the muted colors and vasteness of this land. The more I spend time with these objects, the more I feel their scale and openness, their freedom, their purity, like the Great Mojave, which seems to go on forever. Maybe this comes from my knowledge of Simi's creative process, that it too is infinite and alive, non-goal oriented, never ending.