Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Afternoon with the Queen

No, not Elizabeth and her corgis.  And not the new shiny-haired forerunner, Catherine, either.  This particular Queen may be far under the radar but she is way hipper, keeps funner company and is infinitely more likely to have hallucinogenic fungi within her possession.  She is Queen Califia, a mythical Amazon warrior queen, whose legend is tied to that of an island replete with gold and other riches.  One version of the story has the Spaniard, Hernan Cortes going in search of this island and instead finding himself in the land that would eventually bear her name: California

Today, this lady bad-ass has been immortalized in the center of a befittingly trippy sculptural garden which was financed and created by Niki de Saint Phalle, a woman whose work I've featured here before (in Switzerland and Nice).  For reasons that no amount of googling has revealed, the French-born Ms. de Saint Phalle chose to tuck this dreamscape in the middle of a municipal park in the aptly named city of Escondido, California.

I had some free time in San Diego recently and joined by an old friend, Leone, we decided to make the thirty minute trek to Kit Carson Park in search of  Queen Califia's Magical Circle Garden. At first, all we encountered was a weary-looking high school track team and an over-caffeinated coach, but after following a few directional signs we were led into a wonderfully crazy-looking maze.

The combination of the exuberant mosaics and the repeated reptilian imagery is highly reminiscent of Gaudi's Parque Guell, not surprising considering de Saint Phalle's visits to Barcelona and her stated admiration for his use of unusual materials in his work. The centerpiece is, of course, Queen Califia herself, standing astride a gigantic psychedelic parrot.  Both of them surrounded by a fantastical crew of characters, all of them quirky enough to make even the biggest Tim Burton fan squeal with delight.
A few examples are the screaming guy coping with the spider infestation and uncaring avian upstairs neighbor:
..And the holy bird of the red key in the process of becoming snake chow:

Not to mention, more serpents:
 an ode to Californian's fondness for silicone lips and coconut-like breasts: 
 And, of course, the Edvard Munch's the Scream creature meets Crusty the Clown meets a very dishonest Pinocchio Bird meets a blockhead Pierrot Clown thingy:

I make fun because the park is so, well, fun.  It is mirthful and raucous and also really well-done, inviting the gaze as well as the touch.
Every turn reveals a new angle or perspective waiting to be discovered.
And in its playfulness, it pays respect to California's roots, not only via the Queen, but also through symbolism and totem-like figures harking back to the region's earliest settlers.

No offense to Elizabeth or no-longer-Waity Katie, but when it comes to fun Queens, they never stood a chance.


  1. wow wow wow ... amazing sculptures ... I've been so close but never seen this ;(( one more thing 4 the future to do list !!!

  2. Don't feel bad. My friend who lives in San Diego had never seen this either. I think it is one of those hidden gem things. But it is a good reason to come back to the states. :)