By Katie Nartonis

Flight Paths 2 – time lapse of rotating wire sculpture

Cover Photo: Woven Windows, a collaborative project with Mil-tree, at Sky’s the Limit in Twentynine Palms.

“Living and working in the Mojave gives me the amazing opportunity to collaborate with nature itself, to create work that melds art and nature and participant into one thing – I can’t imagine anything better.”
Ben Allanoff, artist

Ben Allanoff’s artwork is a collaboration. A sacred conversation. Indeed, it is work created in a kind of alchemy between man and the earth. Drawn to the desert, and inspired by her forms, Allanoff explores sculpting in varied materials and works deftly in any medium. The artist creates sculpture of all size, including outdoor sculptural works made of found objects, plant material, metal, and wire. Some examples are massive in size and impact, looking like they were conjured by some unseen hand. Many incorporate elements of rich saturated color and texture, and all are beautifully crafted.

Big Boulders – rust on canvas, at Black Rock Art Gallery in Joshua Tree National Park

The artist’s current show, “Rust”, at Black Rock Art Gallery (located inside the JTNP’s Black Rock campground building), showcases recent works. The pieces in this show all have a connection to two aspects of our local geology: the shapes of the iconic boulder piles, and the oxidation (rusting) of naturally occurring iron, which exists in various forms throughout the landscape. Wrapping metal forms in canvas, Allanoff buries them in the earth and waters them regularly. He then allows the oxidation process of the metal to mature as it lays ‘sleeping’ in the ground. Ghostlike organic shapes, created by the rusting process, emerge imprinted onto the canvas as they are unburied and unwrapped. Some of the works in the Black Rock show incorporate the original rusted metal forms as an applied element to the canvas. Allanoff collaborated on a few examples with local artist Bobby Furst who lent some of his found metal treasures for the enterprise. He admits that “While my rust prints are designed, they also allow lots of room for the same uncontrolled natural processes that paint the desert.”

“The way I practice art has always involved gathering bits and pieces that appeal to me and arranging and/or connecting them to make a new thing. I very much enjoy collaborating with other artists, and with the public, and, at least in my mind – with my many artistic heroes who are no longer alive.”

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Allanoff discovered the desert by accident in the mid-1980s. A relative stranger asked him to drive from LA to Joshua Tree in order to see a comet. As a new arrival to Los Angeles and a lifelong East coaster hailing from Pennsylvania, both comet-watching and the desert were things he had never considered before. “We arrived after dark, and it was overcast, so, no comet…but when I woke up in the morning I was amazed and thrilled to see the landscape for the first time, and felt, to my great surprise, very much at home.”

During the 30 years spent living and working in LA, he had been visiting the desert fairly regularly. Moving here permanently in 2017, he finds the environment and the community here to be inspiring and supportive of his artistic explorations. “I’m especially grateful to (among others) Furstwurld, Boxo Projects, the Joshua Tree Highlands Artists’ Residency, Sky’s the Limit, Harrison House, and Joshua Tree National Park, for all they do to connect people to one another and to the natural world through art.”

The show runs thru March 28th. More information at

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