Although we may not have seen this yet, Northern New Mexico deserts have been touched by the heart and imagination of a 69-year old artist who managed to find the true passion of his life. Ra Paulette has been digging caves for over 30 years and has created extraordinary subterranean sculptures that make everybody’s jaws drop.
The man shapes and decorates sandstone masses by hand, and he never goes underground with anybody else, except for his old dog. After he has finished excavating and painting, the underground hall automatically becomes a “luminous cave”, as he likes to call them. The cave-digging artist finds inspiration in nature, but also in the universal spirit. In fact, he even states that “These caves are designed as transformative spaces.” He hopes that one day, people will visit them and will find a purpose, a deeper understanding of themselves, and of life.Ra Paulette has been working on several projects during these years. Using only tools like shovels, pick axes and scrapers, he managed to provide some of his caves with ventilation, natural light, and even a water system. In other words, they have become livable pieces of art. They were added objects like ground beds, floors, bathtubs, and they were opened for the public to see and use them.
For the cave-digging artist, though, these underground homes resemble more with spiritual places. The fact that they are isolated and travelled by light from many angles makes them appear unique and somehow holy in the eyes of the world. He believes that being able to feel the earth and sun close to you “brings out deep, expansive emotionality.”
He is neither an engineer nor a certified sculptor. However, guided by his talent and intuition, he spends up to seven years creating a set of spectacular tunnels with curving surfaces, in which the visitor is followed by sun rays everywhere he goes. When the film director Jeffrey Karoff discovered Paulette, he immediately set the ground for a documentary, “The Cavedigger.” Although the director was not expecting it, the film was nominated for the Best Short Documentary category at the 2014 Academy Awards. It gained a huge success, which led to people’s recognition and admiration for Ra’s work.
But don’t think everything has been going well for the cave digging artist. As he was shaping an elaborate cave complex, a piece of the roof fell off. That one piece managed to destroy a lot of ideas, time, and hard work that Paulette had offered the project in two years. Consequently, the artist gave up on it, stating that it was too dangerous for people to visit.
Shortly after the incident happened, he started working on another cave digging project that will be much bigger than anything he had done before. In fact, he assumes that it will take him approximately ten years to finish everything as he envisions it. Ra Paulette calls this new complex the “magnum opus”, and he thinks that it will be the last project he will be able to complete.