For the past two decades, Ra Paulette has been making caves.
Working alone with only the few tools he can carry on his back– a wheelbarrow, a pickaxe, and a shovel– he spends hours each day excavating the soft sandstone cliffs of Northern New Mexico to create his beautiful and other-worldly land art.
Paulette creates ‘eighth wonder of the world’ cathedral-like sculptural caves using nothing but hand tools. Working in the malleable sandstone his creations rival the work of the great earth artists– Goldsworthy, Heiser, De Maria and Smithson.
As patrons cut short his projects for financial or aesthetic reasons, though, Paulette insists on continuing, doing it his way, letting his inner-driven artist shine through. He struggles with ever-greater frustrations and what he sees as a lack of recognition for his work.
Undaunted at age 65, he decided to build caves on public land, without permission, working for no one but himself. Following his inspiration and passion have cost him almost everything.
Nonetheless, he either can’t– or won’t– stop digging.
In Cave Digger, director Jeffrey Karoff explores Paulette’s unique subterranean creations and examines the cost of the artist’s obsession as he increasingly rejects commissioned work to focus on his own magnum opus, a sprawling network of caves expected to take 10 years to complete.
Nominated for an Oscar in 2013, it’s a film that brings the viewer to a hidden land of wonders that is at once an artistic revelation– and a reflection of the hard work and psyche of the man who built it.
You can watch Karoff’s full 38-minute documentary for free here. Below, the CBS story about Paulette and his beautiful labor of love.
by Skippy Massey
This post originally appeared at the Humboldt Sentinel. Reprinted with permission.