Cain Motter has been living off the grid here and there since childhood, when his mother and father escaped a religious cult that didn’t allow members to leave.
The family was advised to head for California—which they did. Motter’s father, a blind Vaudeville performer, earned a living by performing at Muscle Beach in Venice, and eventually bought a piece of land near Pioneertown. There, he began working with the infamous UFOlogist George Van Tassel, the man responsible for the Integratron, to build a geodesic dome.
When Motter was 14, his mother whisked him and his sister off to Oklahoma. During his years of teenage angst, the strapping young man began a punk band and started challenging the social norms of the day. For example: While performing, he’d wear a pink tutu and Army boots, blowing fireballs with his mouth and belting out lyrics that challenged the limited views of the locals. Motter would book gigs in what could only be described as “Okie bars,” and then distribute disposable cameras to audience members. When people would come after him, audience members would begin snapping photos of them wrestling around on the dance floor—pictures which became unique art in and of themselves.
“The locals there were all such homophobes and racists, and I just wanted to throw it in their faces that they had limited views on what the world was all about,” Motter said.
Motter later returned to L.A. and began taking art classes at a community college. Challenging the system and the values of the day has always been a thread running through his work. An image of a naked woman wearing an American-flag necktie once got him arrested for obscenity; it took the American Civil Liberties Union to get him off the hook.
Today, he is best known at Venice Beach, where he displays his art—made from melted credit cards from all the major financial institutions, which he manipulates into melted faces and other haunting images, and then places in beautiful custom frames.
Much like his father, Motter is a performer through and through—and that brings us to what he’s doing in the Pioneertown area with his Domeland experience.
In the late 1990s, he returned to the land and dome structure left to him by his father. Some family members had been living on the property and collecting what Motter describes as junk—items picked up at thrift stores during the many years he had been away. Eventually, the county ordered him to clean up the land, so he began a cleanup operation—yet was failing to meet the county’s deadline.
Then in the summer of 2006 came the Sawtooth fire. It burned 61,700 acres, destroyed 58 homes and 179 outbuildings, and took a life. However, it also cleared Motter’s the property of all the garbage.
“It was a horrible and devastating event,” Motter said about the fire. “My family and friends were on the property helping me clear the land of all the rubbish. When the fires broke out, we headed for the national park to be safe. I sent everyone home the next day, and when I returned to the land … all of the junk had been burned. Thankfully, the dome was not charred, and it ended up being a weird kind of miracle.”
Since then, Motter has created something truly special at what he now calls Domeland. It’s a private venue, an artists’ colony and a refuge for filmmakers, writers and musicians who need a base while they pursue their own unique art. The property is located in the rocky terrain of the pristine high desert. The land boasts an array of upside-down Joshua trees, all part of an art installation, a collaboration by artists Steve Shigley and Jeff Frost. They created an enchanted forest that is otherworldly and was used in Jeff’s award winning Kickstarter-funded film, Circle of Abstract Ritual. The film is an audio and visual masterpiece, utilizing more than 300,000 still photographs and his own abstract paintings. He used images of abandoned houses, shots taken during the L.A. riots, time-lapse footage of wildfires and pictures of the Milky Way to create a film that has earned him international recognition.
Frost is just one of many artists who have taken shelter in tents, buses or vehicles at Domeland while they’ve embarked upon uniquely creative endeavors. For example, on a recent visit, I met Bill Johnson, a photographer and documentary filmmaker who pitched a tent there while passing through. Bill lives in Los Angeles and has been working on a documentary about rodeos in Northern Colorado.
I recently attended my first live show at Domeland, featuring Atala, Whereas, Sorxe and A’rk, and the experience was amazing. The dome seemed to change from an art studio into a giant speaker as the deep and heavy sounds of the hard-pounding rock music created inside bellowed out over the property. An acre away from the building, I could hear every note being played while roasting my toes over a campfire.
Bands from all over the world come to play there and create their own art. In recent years, many desert-rock bands have explored their own art and shot music videos at Domeland, including Waxy and Gene Evaro Jr.
The feeling that I took away from the Domeland experience was one of freedom. Nomads creating art on their own terms enjoy the communal lifestyle Motter has so humbly offered them. While there, I became part of a family of free-thinkers and was invited to stay anytime I need a place to check out of society and into my own art as a writer.
Come spring, I may do just that.
For more information, visitwww.facebook.com/desertdomeland or www.facebook.com/cain.motter. Read more from Robin Linn at rminjtree.blogspot.com. Below: Cain Motter’s Domeland is a haven for artists from around the world. Photo courtesy of Jeff Frost.