Digging Ra Paulette

by Whatsblem the Pro

You think YOU'RE an underground artist? -- PHOTO: Ra Paulette

You think YOU’RE an underground artist? — PHOTO: Ra Paulette

If you’ve spent much time at all sitting around camp fires and burn barrels chewing the fat with people who go to Burning Man, then you know they tend to be fond of talking about buying land and forming intentional communities of one kind or another, building on the lessons learned by participating in the culture that has grown up around the event.

It goes without saying that they’re also rather fond of art, and uniqueness, and deserts.

Somewhere nestled in the big empty between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, there’s a burner daydream for sale: 208 acres of privacy and freedom to spread out on. . . and the property features two hand-excavated art caves.

Eloi need not apply -- PHOTO: Ra Paulette

Eloi need not apply — PHOTO: Ra Paulette

The large and intricately carved underground spaces – described in the real estate listing as ‘cathedrals’ or ‘meditation caverns’ – are the handiwork of 67-year-old Ra Paulette, who has spent the last quarter of a century working alone at digging out and decorating a series of mind-blowing sandstone chambers beneath the surface of New Mexico.

Describing his process, Paulette says “manual labor is the foundation of my self-expression. To do it well, to do it beautifully, is a whole-person activity, engaging mental and emotional strengths as well as physical strength.”

Armed only with hand tools and his trusty wheelbarrow, Paulette follows his own very particular star in a starless darkness whose sky lies beneath our feet. He seems to have developed techniques all his own that allow him to work with remarkable efficiency, accompanied only by his faithful dog.

“When digging and excavating the caves,” he elaborates, “I break down all the movements into their simplest parts and reassemble them into the most efficient patterns and strategies that will accomplish the task while maintaining bodily ease. Like a dancer, I feel the body and its movement in a conscious way. I’m fond of calling this ‘the dance of digging,’ and it is the secret of how this old man can get so much done.”

Paulette’s strange story and that of his long and solitary labor of love has been immortalized in a documentary that may just be on its way to an Academy Award nomination: director Jeffrey Karoff’s CAVE DIGGER. The film, which has been much-lauded at international film festivals this year, spelunks both Paulette’s artistic ouevre, and the artist’s difficulties in dealing with the demands of his patrons. Paulette’s clashes with those who would try to direct his artistic efforts in exchange for mere money have spawned a distressing number of unfinished projects and left the cloistered cave-carver determined to work only for himself as he completes his magnum opus over the course of a decade of digging.

“My final and most ambitious project is both an environmental and social art project that uses solitude and the beauty of the natural world to create an experience that fosters spiritual renewal and personal well being,” explains Paulette. “It is a culmination of everything I have learned and dreamed of in creating caves.”

According to the real estate listing, grid electricity and telephone lines are ready to serve the lot at its perimeter, and the gated property features roads that connect with New Mexico State Highway 285 for easy access. Along with Paulette’s underground cathedrals and their “candlelit niches, recessed seating and various breathtaking side rooms that are washed in sunlight,” the 208-acre homestead boasts “majestic mountain views” and “surreal rock formations throughout.”

See you there?

The trailer for Jeffrey Karoff’s Ra Paulette documentary, CAVE DIGGER

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