The line between creative ambition and risky obsession is sharply drawn—or rather, carved out of New Mexico sandstone—in the life and work of wholly motivated artist Ra Paulette, an aging environmental sculptor whose labyrinthine, intricately detailed, functional art-caves are literally so underground that you’ve never heard of him. Akin to Andy Goldsworthy—who also painstakingly creates fleeting beauty in the wilderness, but mainly reaches his audience through photographs of those creations—Paulette may benefit from being the subject of Jeffrey Karoff’s intriguing doc portrait. “When he has a shovel in his hand, he’s like a coke addict with piles of coke. He just wants to keep going and going,” says the man who married Paulette’s ex-girlfriend; the couple then commissioned him to excavate and build them an installation that took two years instead of the proposed two months. In a just-right 39 minutes, Karoff gets Paulette to open up about his strained relationships with friends and family (admitting to a Peter Pan complex), as well as his frustration with clients who he feels are trying to be painters using him as the paintbrush. His final project may take 10 years and will likely be his last, but he can dig it.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 24, 2013