The desert can be unforgiving, pitting lost hikers against the landscape, the landscape against its animals, or animals against each other—much like the tense standoff you see here. The dueling scorpion and grasshopper are just two of over 500 metal sculptures that Ricardo Breceda has made in his career, most of which are at his studio just off highway 79 in Aguanga, east of Temecula. But these two and about 130 others were commissioned by the late philanthropist Dennis Avery so that his land, Galleta Meadows Estate, could be one massive art installation. Breceda rose to the occasion, creating intricately detailed animals out of sheet metal to represent what the desert may have looked like millions of years ago—with a twist. Amid galloping horses and bighorn sheep, a 350-foot serpent winds across the road, and a scorpion and a grasshopper are magnified to the viewer’s eye level.
The two sculptures took just a couple months for Breceda to complete. By now he has his process down to a science. The sculptor first sketches out the complete shape to scale on the floor. He then uses rebar about a quarter-inch thick to make a frame, and finally welds rusty red sheet metal to build the full image. The task requires deft handiwork, switching between pliers, cutters, and scissors to get into the small crevices and perfect the details—the spines and wire wings of the grasshopper, the sharp fangs of the scorpion. Completely handmade, no two projects are alike. And for Breceda, no project is really his favorite. Some resonate a little more deeply, like the T. rex he made for his daughter (his first project), or this scorpion, which harkens back to his childhood in Durango, considered the scorpion capital of Mexico. But Breceda says what’s most important to him is to create work that takes people outside of themselves, to create unlikely art in an unlikely landscape that coexists in sweet harmony—fearsome as it may appear.
700-898 Big Horn Road, Borrego Springs