Surrounded by lush forests in rugged mountainous terrain, in the southern quarter of Humboldt County, lies the sad little town of Garberville, CA.
Infamous as a global drug trafficking hub, Garberville has become Mecca for drug dealers, and drug addicts alike who flock here in droves to pursue their lifelong ambition to make money and get high. The huge sums of money associated with the illegal drug trade, draws other unsavory characters to this little burg as well.
Real-estate agents, bankers, and greedy businessmen eager to hitch their wagon to the prohibition gravy train, line Garberville’s main drag offering overpriced mediocrity served with heartless indifference. In recent years, Garbervile’s pathos has become even more famous than its pot, and with good reason. After all, you can grow good pot anywhere, but watching the stagnating black-market economy turn this self-selecting community of callous, greedy, small-minded people into a cauldron of seething resentment, open hostility, and violence evokes that special blend of pity and disgust like no place I’ve ever been before.
Rising like a lotus from this cesspool, one artist dares to defy the vortex of darkness with his singular creative vision.
Ron Machado challenges this small town’s image of itself with assemblages of found objects which spring defiantly from the oppressive landscape of commercial exploitation. Like Banksy, the famous, albeit anonymous London street artist, Machado eschews the rarified atmosphere of galleries and museums, preferring instead to transform the stifling homogeneity and crass utility of the small Northern California town he has called home for more than two decades.
Machado’s artworks often appear overnight, in unexpected, but very public places, usually in Garberville’s business district, where he carefully reveals the madness concealed within the mundane. Machado’s angular, assertive and unapologetic artworks occupy parking spaces, take over vacant lots, and sometimes even appear in the middle of major thoroughfares. They look almost functional, but overflow with playful frivolity, physical non-sequiters and mind-bending juxtaposition.
Like many artists of exceptional vision, Ron Machado is mocked, misunderstood, and unappreciated in his hometown, where he is more often described as a homeless, mentally-ill, pain-in-the-ass, than as an artist. Local townspeople have repeatedly removed and destroyed Machado’s artworks, and this past week, an unknown assailant attacked Ron Machado physically.
The assailant sprayed Ron’s face, and his belongings with flammable liquid, and attempted to set both on fire. Fortunately Ron escaped serious injury, but the ensuing blaze engulfed Ron’s belongings, filling Garberville with the acrid stench of burning plastic for most of the afternoon.
While Ron has been arrested numerous times, and is well known to police for making public art, the arsonist who attempted to murder Ron remains at large, blending into the community, who appear to be protecting his identity. Undaunted, Ron has returned to his work, and continues to create art in Garberville with the reckless passion of a true visionary.
I encourage all art enthusiasts to make a trip to Garberville to see Machado’s latest work. To view Machado’s work before local townspeople dismantle it, it pays to arrive early in the morning. It is hard to know where a Machado original will pop up next, but in a town mostly devoid of interesting art, Machado’s installations stand out conspicuously against the dull backdrop of repressive commercialism.
Pack a lunch, because the restaurants in Garberville mostly suck, and don’t bother shopping, because the prices are ridiculous, but Machado’s creations make the trip worth while. While you’re up this way, be sure to visit Eureka, one of America’s great small art towns, only 65 miles or so to the North. With lots of public art, many fine galleries, and a vibrant local art scene, not to mention better restaurants and lower prices, Eureka is a great place to spend the rest of the day, and your money, after a Machado morning in Garberville.