Tag: Art


Aqueduct Road Trip Slideshow


A few months ago we stumbled on a photo album at the Huntington Library in San Marino that gave us a unique peek into the lives of two Angelenos – William Frick and Julius Oliver. These two friends were so fascinated by the two-year-old Los Angeles Aqueduct that they embarked on a road trip to photograph it. The photo album reads like a combination between a buddy movie and an adventure story, combining car culture, movie culture, and water culture into one scrapbook. As we consider the aqueduct as an engineering feat, symbol of the city’s hunger and growth, or giver of life to Los Angeles, this is a reminder at earlier Angelenos had a far less freighted relationship with the pipeline. Sometimes a pipe is just a pipe, nothing more than a reason to gas up the Ford and take a trip. A handful of photos from the album are in the fall issue of Boom along with an essay by Assistant Editor Annie Powers, and we’re excited to be able to share the whole album here, where it’s accompanied by “My Little Ford,” the 1915 song listed as its soundtrack on the book’s last page.

In fact, we have been so excited about the album that we couldn’t resist posting a few images from it online while the issue was still in production. Some of our eagle-eyed, historically-minded readers helped us to track down the Hollywood address where Frick and Oliver began their journey. Those early photos also found their way to Ann Campbell, granddaughter of William Frick. Ann was kind enough to send us some of her family photos – and even take some of her own. Together, Boom and Ann visited the address pictured in Frick and Oliver’s photo album. There’s now an apartment building where the house once stood, but across the street there’s a house nearly identical to the one pictured. Here’s Ann standing in front of that house, holding the original photograph.

Image by Rita Blaik.

Slideshow by Annie Powers and the Center for Digital Humanities at UCLA. Want to share it on your website? Click here to see the embed code.

And visit the new Los Angeles Aqueduct Digital Platform to explore the archives yourself.


Mono Craters and June Lake

by Valerie P. Cohen

From Boom Fall 2013, Vol. 3, No. 3

Excerpts from A Summer Journal.

boom-2013-3-3-78-f031My cabin sits on a small plateau in the Eastern Sierra of California, above the west end of June Lake, in the upper watershed of the Mono Basin. It is a small wooden cabin, built in the early 1940s. It is inaccessible in winter, but open from late spring until mid fall.

Looking northeast, one sees the lake, then the terminal moraines, the two highest Mono Craters, and sky. The first time I saw the cabin, I didn’t even go inside. I just sat down on the front porch, looked at the landscape, and thought, a view of my own.

By now I have spent more than twenty long summers there and have always vaguely considered painting that scene. Finally, I got around to doing just that—over and over and over at different times of day or night, changing angles of sunlight according to season, snow or rain or wind or fire. This is a certain kind of traveling.

These six paintings are taken from the book Mono Craters and June Lake: A Summer Journal, containing twenty-six watercolors originally painted on Arches 300-pound rough rag paper. Each original is 7 by 9 inches. Click an image below to see a larger version.



All Along the Aqueduct

Photographs by Chad Ress, Center for Social Cohesion, Arizona State University

From Boom Fall 2013, Vol. 3, No. 3

Water is plainly vital to the life of towns and cities alike. It plays a key role in the social life of residents too.

The aqueduct intake near Big Pine in Owens Valley.

Chad Ress, a photographer and fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University, has traveled around the country to document places where people come together. In this photographic essay for Boom, Ress explored the length of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, from its headwaters near Bishop to Los Angeles, to document watery places as gathering spots for communities at either end of the system. While water is plainly vital to the life of towns and cities alike, it also plays a key role in the social life of residents.

The first day of fishing season at Crowley Lake. Twenty five miles north of Bishop, in Mono County, the lake is the largest reservoir on the Los Angeles Aqueduct system, formed by the Long Valley Dam in 1941. The lake’s fishing concession is run in cooperation with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Swim meet, Expo Center. The Los Angeles Aqueduct terminates at a filtration plant in Sylmar. From there, the water flows to a small reservoir before getting mixed into the city water distribution system, and on to customers’ taps, city drinking fountains, and pools like this.


Water, Pipeline, 100 Mules

52-mules-haul-siphon-pipe-laa-553Editor’s Note: Boom has an ongoing collaboration with KCET Artbound, which features Southern California art journalism, and regularly includes articles from Boom. We thought our readers would be especially interested in this article from Artbound on artist Lauren Bon’s “One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct.” Our fall issue focuses on the LA Aqueduct: environment, culture, politics, history, and the future. It is supported by the Metabolic Studio.

By Jon Klusmire, KCET Artbound

It’s hard to match the physical scale and impact of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, but walking 100 mules along the length of the aqueduct, from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles, with 100 mules might match the aqueduct for sheer audacity and could top the 100-year old structure when it comes to creating a landscape-scale artwork.

The mule caravan will also likely be the most visible, unique, and, in some situations, unavoidable event marking the 100-year anniversary of the completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which started bringing water from the Owens Valley to Los Angeles on Nov. 5, 1913.

“On the centenary of the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Lauren Bon and the Metabolic Studio will perform ‘One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct,’ a commemorative artist action to connect Los Angeles to its water supply,” noted a press release from the Metabolic Studio.

LAWP mule team pulling aqueduct pipe section | Photo: Courtesy of Eastern California Museum

“Many people in Los Angeles don’t know their water comes from 240 miles away,” Bon said when announcing project at the Metabolic Studio’s studio, located in downtown Los Angeles, on July 26.

A 100-mule caravan marching 240 miles for 27 days along the L.A. Aqueduct will remind Los Angeles residents of their city’s history by providing “an experience with water” that has come from the Sierra Nevada for 100 years, she noted. The sight of 100 mules walking along the Aqueduct could lead Southern California and Los Angeles residents to the conclusion that “they are passing through their neighbors’ property,” when traveling through the Owens Valley, since “that is where their water comes from,” Bon noted.

The mule train pays homage to water history, but it is also is intended to make a statement about the future of water in Los Angeles. “One Hundred Mules Walking the Aqueduct is an action with a resolution to move forward into the next 100 years with renewed appreciation for this vital resource,” Bon said. “Let it be resolved that the citizens of Los Angeles will do everything possible to make the best use of this life giving resource in the next 100 years.”

Map of the mule walk.

Trekking with mules alongside the canals and pipelines of the gravity fed aqueduct as it snakes through three counties and nearly 50 communities, is one way to raise consciousness about the city’s water infrastructure and invite “direct contact” with the resource and its conveyance, she added.

Many Angelenos will probably not be able to avoid “direct contact” with the mules. The final legs of the expedition will take place in the San Fernando Valley and the City of Los Angeles. The traveling troupe will arrive at the Cascades, where the Aqueduct ends, on Nov. 5, 2013, to mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the aqueduct. The herd will then take part in a Veteran’s Day Parade in Glendale, so the mules will receive “a heroic welcome from the City of Los Angeles that is long overdue,” Bon said.

The expedition will come to a final stop in Griffith Park at, where else, the William Mulholland Fountain. There, people can mingle with the mules, and “we’ll have a big square dance and community potluck,” Bon suggested.

Putting the focus on the mules will honor the role mules played in shaping the west in general, and the L.A. Aqueduct, which “was built by the labor of mules,” she noted.

Handling the logistics of the mass of mules will be Jen Roeser, who with husband Lee are long-time owners of the McGee Creek Pack Station. She said there will be 25-35 people on the Mule Walk, with a wrangler assigned to each string of 10 mules. A group of up to 10 support vehicles will supply feed and water for the mules and riders, portable corrals, camping gear, a veterinarian, a truck to haul off the mule manure, and other essentials outlined in the various permits and permissions for the event, she said.

Jen Roeser, of the McGee Creek Pack Station, talks about the logistics of moving and feeding and caring for 100 mules for 27 days while covering 240 miles. | Photo: Jon Klusmire.

The entire action has been coordinated with and approved by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which Bon called a “more responsive agency than many people know.”

Bon and one other member of the Metabolic Studio plan to ride the whole route. The riders and those watching will be able to enjoy “the magic of 100 mules walking” through a striking landscape.

Lauren Bon and Jen Roeser

Once the mules stop, though, there will be opportunities for people to “drop by camp” or participate in various public events along the route.

The mules will start their journey at the Aqueduct Intake, and the first public event will be held near Manzanar. The group will spilt in two and circle the Owens Dry Lake, and then have another event near Haiwee Reservoir, “where water and power come together,” Bon noted.

The walking art work will proceed through Red Rock Canyon, to Mojave and through the Mojave Desert. There will be a two-day stop at Holiday Lake and the California Aqueduct for a “block party” to recognize “the people taking care of our water supply,” Bon said. The convoy will then proceed to the Cascades and the final, urban leg of its journey.

Bon and the Metabolic studio have been active in the Owens Valley since 2007. Some of the group’s more visible projects include the IOU Garden in Lone Pine, events at the PP&G plant on the Owens Lake, restoration work on the Cerro Gordo Mine, and famer’s markets in Lone Pine and Independence.

The Metabolic Studio, a direct charitable activity of the Annenberg Foundation, of which Bon is a director, has awarded about $1 million in grants to universities, tribal organizations, libraries and museums in the Owens Valley, Southern California and the West, for various projects related to the 100 year anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The Metabolic Studio’s AgH20 project is a 240-mile work that aims at reconnecting Los Angeles with the elements that made it viable historically: silver and water, both mined from the mountains of the Owens Valley.

Jon Klusmire was a journalist and writer covering Colorado’s Western Slope for about 20 years before moving to Bishop, CA, where he wrote for the Inyo Register before taking his current job as the Director of the Eastern California Museum, in Independence.

Top Image: A team of 52 mules hauls a section of pipe for one of the siphons on the Los Angeles Aqueduct. | Photo: Courtesy of the Eastern California Museum.


A Passion for Place

Passion for Place: Community Reflections on the Carmel River Watershed, edited by Paola Fiorelle Berthoin, Laura Bayless and John Dotson. RisingLeaf Impressions, 2012, 172 pages; $49.50

Reviewed by Jonah Raskin

Like rivers, books can take time to reach their destinations. Published in 2012 after years in the making, Passion for Place—a compendium of art, essays, and interviews—is finding a niche close to the river that inspired it.

Paola Fiorelle Berthoin, the editor and driving force behind the book, is taking the book this August, September, and October, along with her own paintings and photographs, to events around Monterey County. The literary Carmelites Mary Austin and George Sterling, who lived in the watershed a hundred years ago, would likely join the festivities if they were around today. So would their summer guests, Jack and Charmian London, who often visited from Sonoma. Jack London raved about Carmel; he’d probably rave about Passion for Place. Like his best books, it takes readers on a journey, in this case inland, upstream, and into a watershed.

The product of grass roots creativity, the coffee-table book offers short stories, poems, sketches, essays, and a CD, plus color paintings and photographs by Berthoin, an Englishwoman who arrived in Carmel in 1965 and has never taken her eyes off the place. In more than 50 dazzling oil paintings, including “View from Carmel Valley Road,” she transforms familiar scenes into magical landscapes with bold, bright colors. Her “Storm Clouds, Los Laureles Grade” conjures an ominous scene that the Big Sur poet, Robinson Jeffers, might have depicted in blank verse.

In the foreword, Freeman House— author of Totem Salmon, a classic about Humboldt’s Mattole River—distinguishes between denizens linked to the land and citizens connected to cities. He suggests that Californians might want to define themselves as inhabitants of watersheds rather than urban or suburban neighborhoods.

In “How I’m Taught Green,” Barbara Mossberg plunges into the vegetation around the river. “It could be a weed, wild, /How it grows by the river, free,/Unplanted by any human hand—a dart of random green,” she writes. Pam Krone-Davis aims to think and feel like a steelhead trout. “When I first hatched from the nest my mother had made in the small stones with her tail, I was very small,” she writes. Mark Stromberg keep track of the animals in and around the river, including a ring-tailed cat that looks in the artist’s rendition like a creature from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Stromberg and fellow denizens depict the watershed as a wonderland to explore and protect—and as an expensive one, too. Inhabiting a beautiful watershed, Stromberg points out, comes with a price tag these days, in more ways that one.

At its best, Passion for Place creates a strong sense of a singular environment that is sacred to Native Americans and beloved by landscape painters such as Berthoin. Moreover, the book could serve as a guide for artists and writers who might want to explore, portray, and work to save California’s endangered watersheds, from the Sierra Nevada to the Pacific, and from urban and suburban neighborhoods to rural farmlands.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Natives, Newcomers, Exiles, Fugitives: Northern California Writers and their Work and a frequent contributor to Boom.

Images courtesy of Paola Fiorelle Berthoin: painting “View from Carmel Valley Road,” photograph “Reflections on Black Rock Creek Lake.”

On her website—www.passion4place.net—Berthoin posts up-to-date information about events.


Arts for the City

San Francisco: Arts for the City: Civic Art and Urban Change, 1932–2012, by Susan Wels (Heyday; 224 pages; $45)

Reviewed by Annie Powers

Murals, mosaics, sculptures, and street art— Susan Wels’ San Francisco: Arts for the City: Civic Art and Urban Change, 1932–2012 has it all. Lushly illustrated and deeply researched, Wels gives readers the story of the San Francisco Arts Commission from its creation in 1932 up to the present day. The commission was initially formed to to help put San Francisco on the map as a world-class city—to compete with (and maybe become a a little bit similar to?) the SoCal cultural capital, Los Angeles.

Wels then delves into a more familiar story about the city’s art scene, when, after World War II, San Francisco became a space for a racially, economically, and politically diverse movement to emerge and produce art that pushed the boundaries of mainstream western art. This movement continued into the 1970s and ’80s, Wels argues, but was taken out of concert halls and museums and into the streets, inspiring communities and neighborhoods to engage with art. Although an economic downturn that lasted until the early 1990s made it difficult to get funding and created restructuring, by the mid-1990s, arts were flourishing again and moving to new spaces—both in the city and online.

In many ways, Wels’ work is a history of an institution: the San Francisco Arts Commission and the way that it allowed artists to use public funds to push the boundaries of art. But what comes through best are the personalities of the artists that populate the pages, through their words, their lives, and, most importantly, their artwork. Arts for the City contains an enormous number of stunning photographs of paintings, murals, architecture, performance art, infrastructure, sculpture, mosaics, and much more. Readers interested in art in city spaces shouldn’t miss the stories Wels tells and the urban artworks she shows us.

Annie Powers is an assistant editor at Boom and a graduate student in history at UCLA. Images from Arts for the City courtesy of Heyday.

Author Event: “SF Art: Past and Present,”  Thursday, July 25, 2013, 6:00 PM, Mechanics’ Institute Library  57 Post Street, San Francisco. Susan Wels, author of San Francisco: Arts for the City, will give a history of the San Francisco Arts Commission. Tom DeCaigny, San Francisco Arts Commission Director of Cultural Affairs, will talk about current and future projects. 


Art from Flotsam

by Robert Sommer

From Boom Spring 2013, Vol. 3, No. 1

“…bashed-in Clorox bottles were transformed into ghoulish heads, a hubcap became a face, and an interesting piece of wood was perfect for an open hand…”
—Art student at the Emeryville mudflats

For several decades, the San Francisco Bay Area was home to a unique form of recycling in which flotsam became public art. Whimsical sculpture made from wood and other tidal materials first appeared on Bay Farm Island in Alameda in 1960, migrating briefly to Golden Gate Fields, before settling for two decades at the Emeryville mudflats by the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. Other driftwood galleries were created on marshes at the Highway 101 interchange in Larkspur, near the toll bridge station in Hayward, along the shore in Redwood City, at the landfill on the Albany Bulb, and most recently, at a county beach in Rodeo. Each gallery had a start and a finish, several becoming nature reserves or state parks.

Built and displayed near a busy freeway, the sculpture had an appreciative captive audience (Emeryville 1978).

The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss described the innovative use of available materials as bricolage, in which an artisan finds new uses for what is already present in the environment. Building driftwood sculpture is an ideal activity for a bricoleur and a tidal impoundment a perfect work station. Available materials are varied and replenished daily from urban detritus washed ashore. The discards of Bay Area cities became the materials for creative celebration. The artisans revealed a sense of place in what they built, with wildlife a common theme; I could fill pages with photos of bird, fish, and marine mammal imagery in sculpture built and displayed at the Emeryville mudflats.

The work was anonymous (no pieces were signed), ephemeral (a sculpture might last several days or weeks depending on tide and wind), unremunerated (no one made a dime), and mysterious (it was rare to see anyone building). There were, in addition, imported pieces built elsewhere from new materials, such as Snoopy and the Red Baron and the Chinese Junk built by artist Tyler Hoare in his studio and displayed at the Berkeley pier, some of which still stand. But it was the sculpture built on site that was the most intriguing and, I think, important.

The type of wood suitable for building figurative sculpture is more common in tidal sloughs than on surf-pounded beaches. Ocean wood is hardened by salt and sun, rounded, polished, and difficult to nail. Artisans who employ ocean driftwood tend to arrange intact pieces as monuments or build beach shelters. In contrast, bay wood consists of splintery boards that would not have survived the crashing surf and pounding of ocean waves. Most is not virgin wood from the forest, but pieces of old piers, pilings, and other construction that found their way into the bay and washed up on the shoreline. Unlike ocean driftwood, whose individual pieces are beautiful in themselves, the boards in tidal marshes are not attractive. However, they are thin enough to be nailed together to make representational art. Informal bricoleur rules require a minimalist technology of hammer, nails, and twine.

Halloween sculpture (Emeryville 1977). Many of the two-dimensional pieces were visually most exciting in silhouette against the setting sun (Emeryville 1977).

The existence of informal sculpture galleries around San Francisco Bay resulted from a combination of environmental and human factors that included undeveloped and publicly accessible tidal impoundments with an ample supply of flotsam, proximity to a college or art school, and a major highway with a good view of the shoreline, but not so accessible that vandals could destroy the created work on impulse.

Pieces large enough to be seen by motorists from a busy freeway a hundred feet away required several workers. Even if a lone individual constructed an 8-foot sculpture, other people would be needed to hoist it into place.

I brought several of my Environmental Awareness classes on field trips to the Emeryville mudflats to teach them about the creative use of found materials in a setting where the environment became information and learning was discovery. The following are excerpts from student journals:

“For the privilege of building sculpture, I didn’t have to pay anything. I didn’t need a license or permit. All I needed was the creative urge and the willingness to get dirty. I didn’t feel pressured into being original; it was enough to apply imagination to the available materials…Adding to the carefree atmosphere were the unrestricted space, not worrying about messing up the place, or fear of breaking something.”

“Visually the eye is assaulted by the mundaneness of the whole place—dirty browns, boards patterned into muck, broken glass, cans, cast-off plastic bits, moldering cloth, forlorn bushes—even the greens look brown—olfactory sense numbed by decaying organic matter…to touch the mud itself is a must. Squishy cool, sometimes slimy. To reach for a stick, to find its apparent firmness already softened, fringed and blending with the earth.”

The Band (Emeryville 1974) was one of the few composites whose pieces were repaired or replaced when they collapsed.

“As I progress along the marsh I begin to notice the various stages of decomposition of the more degradable paper, wood, and cloth, and the resolute unyielding nature of plastic and styrofoam, aluminum, steel, and glass…I know now that my total experience of the objects I initially saw as trash can be enhanced and enriched to the extent to which I can take their essence into myself and communicate through their manipulation and combination to others.”

The large size needed to be seen from the freeway made this a cooperative art form (Emeryville 1981).

Art museums exhibit sculpture in a consistent light. It doesn’t make any difference whether one visits in the morning, afternoon, or evening, or in winter or summer; the art will look the same. A changing visual panorama awaited the visitor to a mudflat gallery. The appearance of the sculpture changed as the sun set and color disappeared. Pieces that were relatively invisible during the day, due to the predominant gray-on-gray quality of wood against bay, become vivid silhouettes against a pink-hued sky. The flowering plants at ground level added color and verve. A first visit to a mudflat gallery brought home images of impermanence and mortality. Most of the wooden creatures still standing were in stages of decrepitude. Arms and legs missing, heads fallen off, everywhere was rubble where now-unrecognizable figures had stood erect until brought down by wind and tide. The center post embedded deep in the mud with a few dangling boards was the last to fall.

Plastic beer can holders became fish scales (Emeryville 1974).

The practice of making art from recycled materials continues in many forms and venues, including the creative reuse depot in Oakland and the artist-in-residence program at the San Francisco dump. What made the mudflat galleries so special was their connection to place. The sculptures not only creatively reused found materials, they were not portable, not intended to be moved, and therefore had to be displayed where they were built at a scale intelligible to distant passersby. Often this required a several-foot elevation with a false front facing the highway. The large size called for multiple hands and made this a cooperative and anonymous art form. There was no plaque to acknowledge the multiple participants.

Driftwood sculpture had its heyday in the 1970s. It belonged to a time, place, and culture. When these changed, the practice waned. Professional art can survive lean times on the continuing interest of commercial galleries, dealers, critics, patrons, and collectors, art schools, and museums. Non-professional public art without monetary value lacks this support system. Yet to mourn for the driftwood sculpture would be short-sighted, Organizing to preserve tidal marshes as galleries seems equally foolish without a cadre of artisans interested in building sculpture. There was not an organized campaign to save the flagship Emeryville gallery. When the proposal was made to turn it into a state park, there had been more than a decade of mediocre or no new sculpture. The time has passed, the people have changed, and the places have become nature reserves. I would have preferred co-existence between artists and wildlife–I have many photographs of shore birds in and around the sculpture. America has not been particularly kind to its artists, but it has been genocidal to its birdlife. Happily, the Emeryville Crescent and the Albany Bulb are now part of a linear shoreline state park. The sister gallery to the north on Arcata Bay became a national waterfowl reserve. These areas will remain undeveloped and a protected habitat for local and migratory birds.

The Arcata Marsh was located across the road from the local airport. This wooden airplane was constructed by students from a nearby community college (Arcata 1974).

Still, there is a certain nostalgia about the mudflat sculpture among artists and observers. Photographs of the sculpture continue to be a matter of civic pride and have been featured in films, videos, newspaper and magazine articles, book chapters, postcards, calendars, and exhibitions. The Bay Area is temporarily without a mudflat gallery. But given the fact that there have been already seven sculpture sites around San Francisco Bay, besides sister galleries on Arcata Bay and another near North Bend, Oregon, it is likely that future artisans will find another shoreline site to exercise their creative impulses.

Tree bark gave texture to the egret’s feathers (Arcata 1974).

The art world has expanded beyond studio lofts, museums, and galleries. Murals bring color to building exteriors and performance art enlivens city streets. The driftwood galleries presaged these developments with a noncommercial cooperative art form suited to a shoreline habitat and a public interest in recycling urban detritus.

Huge dinosaur towered over passing motorists on Highway 101 (Arcata 1975).

For art classes, an outing to the marsh was a refreshing contrast to studio work. Scavenging was essential, and those who wanted to build had their chance while others collected materials. Decision-making was consensual rather than individualistic or authoritarian. A division of labor developed naturally and was nonhierarchical, with one person leading first, then a second and a third, each feeling connected to the total effort in the sense of accomplishment that completion brought. With each tentative and hesitant placement, the group decides “perhaps” or “let’s try it another way.” Time runs out sooner than expected and finishing touches must be added, the base strengthened, a prop put into place as support against wind and tide. Departing the marsh at the end of the workday, students saw the flotsam strewn about in a new light, imagining how it fit into new sculpture. No longer litter, it was art material waiting….waiting.


A Moment for Diebenkorn

Richard Diebenkorn, From the Model, 117 pages, edited by Chester Arnold and Bart Schneider, and Abstractions on Paper, 123 pages, edited by Schneider. Kelly’s Cove Press, $20.

Reviewed by Jonah Raskin

Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) achieved success as an artist in his own lifetime, but 20 years after his death, a big Diebenkorn moment has finally arrived with two major exhibits of his work and two new, lavishly produced books published by Kelly’s Cove Press that highlight his diverse styles and showcase his irreverent philosophy of art. Novelist, poet and publisher Bart Schneider edited both books with help from the acclaimed painter Chester Arnold, who’s known for his wry sense of humor and grim landscapes of environmental disaster. The quality of the color reproductions is excellent, though the size of the books — 6 inches by 8 inches —don’t do justice to the size of Diebenkorn’s canvases, some as large as 121 inches by 93 inches. Still, there are pleasures in holding these two small, elegant books in the palms of one’s hands and viewing work that has never been previously published or exhibited.

Abstractions on Paper includes two-dozen works that Diebenkorn did in Ocean Park, California, from 1967 to 1988, when he taught much of that time at UCLA. The lavish colors and the sharp lines are spectacular. Abstractions on Paper also offers work that Diebenkorn created in Albuquerque, Urbana, Berkeley and Alexander Valley, California, where he died in 1993. Like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, his literary contemporaries, Diebenkorn made art almost any place and at almost any time, albeit with less bravado than the self-dramatizing Beats.

“Diebenkorn was an artist of quiet generosity and enormous creative energy, both visible at every level of his work,” Chester Arnold writes in an inviting introduction to From the Model that is both personal and historical. Arnold adds, “The charged artistic environment of the Bay Area in the 1940s and 1950s, combined in a creative nexus that stood in opposition to the prevailing Abstract Expressionist winds from the East.” A cultural throwback and a pioneer as well, Diebenkorn looked anew at familiar California landscapes. The most abstract of his paintings often suggest colorful cityscapes and urban forms. The human touch isn’t ever far removed, even when it’s only hinted; his canvases feel more peaceful and less frenetic than Jackson Pollack’s.

The front cover of From the Model offers an ink and gouache sketch of a seated woman, arms folded, eyes looking straight ahead. Inside there are three stark portraits of women, followed by two-dozen intriguing nudes most of them either ink or charcoal on paper, many of them strikingly original — not an easy feat. Erotic, sensual, and perhaps pornographic by the standards of 1955 and 1956, when many of them were completed, they seem now like tributes to the grace of the female form, though they might be deemed obscene today in communities that still outlaw nudes and nudity.

In the color portraits of women fully dressed, which follow the nudes, Diebenkorn pays homage to Henri Matisse, the modern French painter, friend and rival of Picasso who covered his canvases with the brightest of Mediterranean colors. In the 1960s, Diebenkorn studied Matisse’s work, first in Moscow and later in Los Angeles. The influence of Matisse shows up in the “Ocean Park” series that helped to revolutionize American landscape painting and that still captivate the eye.

Publication of Abstractions on Paper and From the Model coincides with “Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966,” an exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco from June 22 through September 29, 2013, which has its own sumptuous catalog. Another exhibition, “The Intimate Diebenkorn: Works on Paper, 1949-1992,” opens at the College of Marin on September 28 and runs through November 14, 2013. And Bart Schneider will be in conversation with Chester Arnold and Peter Selz on July 10 at University Press Books in Berkeley.

The books and the exhibits offer a rare opportunity to reexamine the creative life and the experimental work of a California artist who showed that there were many ways to be an innovative abstract expressionist, and that one could live and work far from New York and still make breathtakingly beautiful paintings that invigorate forms and feelings.

Jonah Raskin’s “Homage to Raymond Chandler” was published in the Winter 2013 issue of Boom.

Photographs courtesy of the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation. “Untitled,” 1978, Cut-and-pasted paper, manufactured colored paper, printed paper, gouache, and graphite on paper, 13 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. (33.7 x 23.5 cm), Estate no. 1604.


Water Reinvigorates Museum

nhmla-feature-image-453x302This weekend the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles throws open its doors to celebrate its centenary and the completion of a major (and wonderful) renovation. There’s a big birthday bash planned, complete with food trucks and a performance by DEVO, the 1970s New Wave band from Ohio (why not?!), and even a giant gift waiting to be unwrapped—the museum’s glassy new entrance pavilion will be unveiled during Sunday’s celebration.

The museum opened, along with Exposition Park which surrounds it, with great fanfare and two weeks of celebration on November 7, 1913. During the two days before, the city celebrated another momentous opening: that of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which piped water to the city from the Owens Valley hundreds of miles north. The timing was no coincidence: a Celebration Commission produced a pamphlet promoting the two-day affair in honor of the “completion of two great institutions which are without peers in this or in any other country.” A site across from the museum’s entrance was dedicated that day in 1913 for a fountain, in commemoration of the aqueduct (though the fountain wasn’t actually built until 1929). With its gleaming new monument to arts and sciences and ample water supply now assured the city had not just arrived, but was going places.

Over the decades, the museum has changed names and grown, and evolved away from its watery history. Once closed, the original 1913 entrance is open again, but the primary way into the museum is now on the north side, facing a symbol of LA’s new future: the light rail Expo Line that opened last year. But the connection to water has not been forgotten.

As part of the renovations, an old parking lot has been transformed into three-and-a-half acres of gardens along the museum’s north and east sides. Opened to coincide with the new Expo Line’s opening day in 2012, the plants have had over a year to mature before this weekend’s celebration. One of the garden’s attractions is a large water feature designed to mimic Los Angeles’s water system. A pond on one end and an “urban water feature” where a sheet of water runs over stone are connected by a dry creek bed. The museum says it’s “a metaphor for LA’s waterways, whose seasonal streams disappear underground.” One end has become a popular gathering spot for birds, and the other for splashing children, if a recent visit is any indication.

Water is an integral part of Los Angeles’s natural history, and its place in the museum’s gardens is entirely fitting. It’s also a key part of the museum’s history, and it’s nice to see that link restored.

— Eve Bachrach

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Daniels, http://www.elizabethdanielsphotography.com.


Screen Captures: Americans on Google Street

by Spring Warren

From Boom Winter 2012, Vol. 2, No. 4

An interview with artist Doug Rickard

Doug Rickard is a photographer from Sacramento, California, whose ambitious project “A New American Picture” incorporates images of contemporary American Life from across the United States. Rickard, however, spent thousands of travel hours logged for this project sitting in a darkened studio and virtually driving the byways of Google Street View (GSW). He has moved through and captured images from desolate areas reeling from the effects of racial inequality, the grim effects of poverty, and the failures in social history. The images both indict the barbarity of power and evoke the strange beauty of a shattered environment.

Spring Warren: An introduction to your work reads that you “present a startling photographic portrait of the socially disenfranchised, providing deeply affecting evidence of the American dream inverted.” Was this your aim when you began?

Doug Rickard: I am the son of an evangelical preacher that had a church in largely white, affluent Los Gatos in the eighties that had grown over twenty-five years from 100 or so members to over 6,000. My father was very conservative, and his view was our Christian nation had been specifically blessed by God to lead the world. When I went to school at UC San Diego and studied slavery, the Civil Rights movement, Jim Crow-era laws and customs, I saw the nation in a light quite different than I had seen it growing up. This collision of world views informed where I would take “A New American Picture.”

The project started with a focus on African American communities to see what they looked like on the heels of our history. I wanted to see what slavery and Jim Crow did to development in the here and now. I used “Martin Luther King Jr.” as a search criteria to find areas of the city from which to start, [that is] the streets named MLK Blvd. or Road or Ave. These areas were typically the most devastated. This didn’t surprise me, given our history, but still, it was incredibly sad that a beacon of hope for our nation now served as a symbol for blight.

Following that, I became interested in the broken areas as a whole. From the beginning, I used the description of the American Dream inverted. My working title was actually “Empire,” and I saw a segment of our nation as sort of the pawns on the chessboard of this empire. For those without economic or educational power, the American Dream is often a myth.


Warren: The places in the images are much emptier than one would expect to see. Further, though the locations span the country, each place strongly resembles the other. Concrete, asphalt, grass, and weeds growing through cracks in the sidewalk and not growing much elsewhere, old cars, graffiti, peeling paint, boarded windows, rust, and disrepair seem to happen in the same way no matter where. In light of this, what were the ways you saw different areas of the country distinguish themselves?

Rickard: To be fair, I wanted to load the work with a feeling of alienation, and I sought pictures out that reflected this. But at the same time, these places—Detroit, Fresno, Camden, Buffalo, Gary, South Dallas, Baltimore, Memphis, etc.—are in fact this way. And in the smaller cities—Wasco, California; Helena, Arkansas; Port Arthur, Texas—there are endless blocks of shuttered businesses and homes. Burned carcasses of architecture and people wandering around trying to survive and exist. And the color lines are still severe and based on economic conditions.

I agree there are very common physical [visual] elements at play here that are linked perhaps to poverty. I would see the same things in the areas of our nation that are devastated . . . what you just listed and also broken-down cars with people peering under the hood, liquor stores and churches, emptiness whether in the streets, the land, or the business buildings and homes. But beyond these common themes I was looking for representation of our nation’s diversity as well. I wanted to use both color and geographical markers, weather and architecture to build out a feeling of “America”—so you see urban areas that are entirely cement but also the rural and entirely overgrown, the brownstones and tall buildings, and the palm trees and ranch-style homes too, all guided by my own perceptions of the places. Even though I have never been in those places, I have a “feeling” of Detroit and of Dallas and Miami which comes from the media and the stories we hear.


Warren: There is a certain 1970s-esque palette to this work and so many old cars and buildings in the landscapes that, but for knowing that the street view project was begun in 2007, it would be difficult to pinpoint the time in which these pictures were taken. It is interesting that technology that shouts NEW creates a visual confusion as to time. Was this something you tried to heighten?

Rickard: Absolutely. I was drawn to the less clear imagery, the “lower res” if you will. What this means in literal terms is that I only took pictures where the images were taken by Google’s early cameras. Luckily, this was most of the country at the time, and certainly the economically broken areas. I suppose that this is interesting in itself as the project is dealing with technology and yet I limited the views that I would show to the most broken-down and “painterly” of visual images. Much of this is really due to how I associate beauty. I favored the broken images as I felt that they were beautiful and contained a certain poetry. Finally, these broken-down images helped me load the work with the type of emotional feeling that I wanted to impart. I was looking for pictures to reinforce notions of the entropy that you mention, along with isolation, abandonment, neglect, alienation. So in a sense, this work is very much controlled by me and loaded by me. It contains some elements of a document but also really functions as art.

Warren: Speaking of art, there’s been a lot of uproar about the fact that you didn’t physically take the images with your own camera, though found object art has been accepted since Duchamp took it on. The problem seems these are photographs not of your making—but screen captures. How do you answer when people accuse you of not being author of your art?

Rickard: Yes, as you mention, the history of art from Duchamp to Richard Prince and others is filled with the reuse and recontextualization of material, be it physical objects or images. In this case, the ability to affect the work itself for me was particularly pronounced. In essence, GSV is a frozen work that you navigate within, that you move within, and travel through. You have a massive amount of influence over what you ultimately choose to do within this world. This includes the composing of the pictures—you have 360-degree movement, also up and down, also the geometry skews with your movement, which you can control to affect “feeling”—the editing of what you look for and choose to show, and finally how the whole of these pictures functions itself. In my case, I was able to use these elements to embed many layers of meaning. These elements were so pronounced as to connect me strongly to photography as a history and a whole. I wanted to do something here that paralleled Robert Frank, Walker Evans, and others who have turned their eye on the American experience. The movement and scale of reach within this platform allowed for this to occur. You have outlined some of the results in your own questions, and there are more that exist for each individual viewer and what they bring to the equation when viewing.



Warren: How much does the idea of your work add to the perception of it? I guess I’m asking if you feel a single image could stand without the tapestry of the entire project, and more importantly, without any explanation of the concept that “A New American Picture” is embedded in?

Rickard: The concept here was, of course, very important, but I felt that the actual pictures had to stand as individuals. I think that concept alone is typically thin—though there are times in art’s history, of course, where concept is strong enough to stand alone; and I want idea to be married to strength of the images—that was much of the point.

Warren: I love the term “screen capture.” It conveys the sense of the hunt, of tracking down these images on the Web. But doing so seems more of a treasure hunt, of searching out inert objects, than it is akin to tracking live images that one shoots with a camera. Talk to me about the different feel of the two processes and where some of the same skills intersect in these two ways of taking images.

Rickard: This is an interesting area of intersection. With GSV, both elements form a crossroads of sorts, as GSV has a great deal of movement that one can impart on to a frozen world. What I mean is, with Google taking nine images every ten meters and stitching them together, one is left with the ability to compose a scene. Not freely as one does with a camera out in the world, or with the naked eye, but somewhere in between. I needed this movement to create this body of work. It allowed me to get the same feeling that I would get out in the world doing photography on the street. And yet, something else was contained that was fascinating to me . . . the ability to encounter subjects that were unaware or semi-aware of the camera itself. That left certain feelings embedded into the work that would not be there if done by traditional means.

I am certainly also very interested in the use of entirely static images. The Internet is expanding so quickly. I have heard that 30 billion pictures will be taken next year alone with a good portion of those ending up on the Internet. This dynamic, the ability to take unlimited pictures from millions and millions of devices, is changing the way that we see the world. Photography and art will undoubtedly be affected and in my view, it is extraordinary and fascinating. This is an area that we could talk about for hours, this topic alone.

Warren: Yes, the Digital Age seems to be in a position of remolding not only our ideas of art, but privacy, time, and even reality. We are caught in the process not only in GVS but by surveillance cameras, and we no longer own or control our own image. Do you feel a little itchy recognizing how much we are at the mercy of other people’s electronic and possibly voyeuristic gaze? Are you concerned with the way your art may conflict with personal privacy?


Rickard: In the era of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, we trade the power that is contained in these tools for our own control of our privacy. I don’t think that you can have both. We are in an era where privacy will continue to erode and all of us will live a partially “public” life whether we want to or not. The technologists would say, “If you don’t like it, simply unplug and don’t use those products.” But we mostly will continue to use these products. I think that there will be pros and cons to this in the future. We just don’t yet know the severity of it.

Art tends to stem perhaps from all of the implications in any given era and the Internet is a decidedly strong implication. Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” plays a part in what I did. It doesn’t translate necessarily into a certain thing happening in that moment—a man falling down, a house burning—in fact, I avoided anything that was “dramatic” in terms of the scene. Instead, the decisive moment translates into how things are visually and aesthetically reading in that moment. Where the sunlight is coming from, where the subject’s gaze is directed, where the subject is in the frame versus the building outline, etc. What that really translates into then is a certain beauty or perhaps a transcendent moment.

As to voyeurism, I think that photography itself and those who are drawn to it have a particular curiosity about how things look, how things play out and operate around them. I am always in the moment visually, looking and absorbing and remembering. The way I take in faces and things and databank them I also do with images from the Web, hoarding and archiving and retaining their elements in my mind. I probably have 100,000 images plus from the Web, organized by topic and category.


Warren: You do have a couple of amazing photography sites. “These Americans” launched in March 2012 has home-shot Polaroids of Richard Pryor, crime scenes photos, road trips, and sex images, to name only a few categories. The other, “American Suburb X,” you call a “fiercely edited look at photography’s massively relevant past, dramatically shifting present and rapidly unfolding future.” Tell me about “fiercely edited” and about the different muscles it takes to be a collector, an artist, and an editor, and how these things work together.

Rickard: Editing is crucial. Within photography this is certainly the case, but it goes beyond that and into design, into details, into content itself, into how things play against each other. Editing is ultimately about making decisions, and those decisions directly determine the strength of anything that you do as an artist or otherwise.

These things should work together and in fact, in this era, they may end up as one and the same. Ultimately [the Internet] may change the way that museums and art silos function. The lines are being blurred. At the forefront of this blurring is an ability to edit. I think that it may end up as the crucial cog in an artist’s wheel.

“These Americans” is really an extension of my head. I collect and archive images both physical and digital on a scale that is scary in size. My conflicting views of our nation, its past, its present, its horrors, and its heroics, all play out in my mind, and visually, you can see evidence of my experience as an evangelist’s son, the realization of our nation’s darkest deeds which has given me direction. I don’t see myself doing any body of work that does not include some element of America as its foundation.

Warren: Californians seem to spend a great deal of time in their vehicles. Have you done a great deal of actual traveling as well as your impressive amount of virtual traveling?

Rickard: It’s true, our state seems entirely designed for automobiles and in most cases one can hardly even get a candy bar without driving to it. But I haven’t traveled much. I do plan to. I had only been to the East Coast once as a child and to the Northwest a few times. Now my wife and I have fourteen- and nine-year-old boys and a new baby girl, age seven months. They are always around when I’m working, lots of coffee and music; it’s really perfect, but not for travel. So part of this body of work was driven by necessity. I had no ability to go out and spend months on the road, but I was determined to do something on a broader America. That led me to GSV. Great things can come out of restraints. The limitations force you to innovate or find a new way of doing something.

This work kept me in a dark room behind a computer for a thousand hours or more, over three years making 10,000-plus pictures for this body of work—of which ultimately around eighty stood; California pictures number at twelve. This speaks loudly to the power this project held over me. I acclimated myself to this method of “driving.” I could go from the inner city of Camden, New Jersey, to the borderlands of southern New Mexico in the same evening. This constant ability to explore new areas was for me a thrill and pull. Of course, the real world is something on another level, but there were entirely powerful elements at work here.

Warren: Where will GVS take us from here? What other uses might be made of it?

Rickard: I am not sure. We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t see myself continuing to work with it for bodies of work beyond “A New American Picture.”

Warren: With fuel costs rising and reserves dwindling, the future does not bode well for the future average citizen who would like to travel. Artists have long brought far-off places within sight of those who couldn’t get there. What do you think it means when GSV, an automated image-maker, plays such a part in this?

Rickard: It is interesting, the point you make. I think that you would look beyond GSV to frame this. Technology itself is replacing travel in many cases. We are moving to a world that allows communication without travel on an unprecedented scale. This is only going to increase. So, while economic components may play a substantial role in the volume of travel, it is really the technological elements that are rapidly shifting our world. Certainly, only a certain percentage of the world touch technology, but almost all seem to be impacted. I suppose we can just call this impact by the heavily used word “globalization.”


Warren: Does it create a more true vision of the world, or less so?

Rickard: This is hard to answer. I think perhaps it does both things simultaneously, makes clearer and also diffuses or obscures. People now have access to information on a mind-boggling scale and literally at their fingertips at any moment. This is in the form of data, audio, and also visual information—pictures and video, if you will. At the same time, people may be experiencing “real life” less and relying on the representation of life on the screen at home and in their hands as a substitute for real life. Perhaps then we are on a road to “know” more but experience less. What that does for our vision of the world is perhaps yet to be determined.