The Regal Reign of Art Queen
By Kimberly Johnson
Along the strip of desert land known as Highway 62 stands a scattered assortment of mint green structures whose paint has been singed by years of sun-kissed summers. Surrounded by cacti, ambiguous handmade oddities and thrift store finds as unique as they come, stands this peculiar place—something like a true-to-life Salvador Dali creation. It is neither tall in stature nor wide in width; however, it is bold and genuine in its purpose.
How exactly might one describe what takes place beyond the exterior walls of these buildings? “Art Queen,” stylized in the font and design of the 1960s Dairy Queen logo, hangs above the entry door. The content of each structure is just as distinct as their outer walls. Every building, having once been utilized for some varying contrasting purpose—an auto garage, a ’40s motel even a Foto-Mat booth at one point— it would seem quite odd for them to be reincarnated in the form of a contemporary gallery, a multipurpose creative work space and a museum with an unconventional focus.
This place— as fantastical as it sounds—does not exist in some distant reality. It resides in Joshua Tree, a seemingly rocky wasteland of distinctive treasures waiting for young treasure hunters to come and explore. If that isn’t explanatory enough to illustrate the mission of this place, this is also where inspired thinkers flock when making minimum wage off of art sounds so much better than climbing the corporate ladder of Wal-Mart and the likes. This place is Art Queen—peculiar and awesome.
Artist, musician and raw foods chef, Shari Elf alongside former beau, New York artist Randy Polumbo, formed the miniature emporium nearly eight years ago after growing an insatiable admiration for the Joshua Tree way of life. A surplus of independent businesses, a socially active community of peers—definitely seems like a fair place to lay creative and communal roots. After years of housing artist support meetings and a hand full of supplemental events geared toward healthy self-expression and continued community betterment, Art Queen continues on in its decorated reputation.
Every week, Elf leads “Art Not Wal-Mart,” a group whose name reflects their opinion on creativity vs. capitalism. PaperMag describes the mission as,”a weekly gathering of artists and wanna-become-artists who work under the premise that it’s better to make and sell art cheap and make a minimum wage than to go to Yucca Valley and work in one of the big-box behemoths of capitalism.”
Today, Art Queen’s transformative nature is utilized in several various ways. The old Foto-Mat booth— and all of its pint-sized glory—houses the World Famous Crochet Museum, an homage to Elf’s extensive love for the craft. While she doesn’t crochet herself, she has referred to those who carry the ability as supreme beings; “I like the crafts of old ladies. I sometimes see them as goddesses,” she’s said.
And without the desire to emphasize an explanation for the notion, I will say, Art Queen’s formal gallery is every bit of the phrase. It houses work from local talents who execute one pretty key component to art—“documentation.” Art is synonymous with the generation it was conducted in. So, in Art Queen’s case—as well as many other art hubs off the beaten path—the legacy will be reflective of the unique individuals who frequent the space.
Lastly, housed on the Art Queen property, tucked within the two auto garages on the lot, is Elf’s personal workspace where the glitter-adorned magic happens. Her projects often consist of what we may call conceptualized decorative mixed media—found objects sprawled across the desert landscape and purchased from any of the several thrift stores within the city’s 40 square mile radius.
The flare simply proves there is nothing quite like the art of Art Queen, the Dali-esque/surreal appearance and the creative quirks of the desert life.
Art Queen & the World Famous Crochet Museum, 61855 Highway 62, Joshua Tree, www.sharielf.com.