Allan Graham: As REAL as thinking
SITE Santa Fe presents an exhibition by New Mexico-based artist Allan Graham featuring a comprehensive overview of his work. The exhibition, entitled Allan Graham/TH: AS REAL as thinking, is curated by Kathleen Shields. The unusual title of the exhibition comes from AS REAL as thinking, a line from a Robert Creeley poem together with TH that stands for Toadhouse, a pseudonym that Allan Graham worked under for part of his career.
Born in 1943, Allan Graham has lived in New Mexico for nearly 35 years. Among other exhibitions, Graham showed Cave of Generation at the Fisher Landau Center, Long Island City, New York in 1992 and The Collection of Panza di Biumo, Artists of the 80s and 90s at Museo D’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Trento and Roveretto, Italy in 1996. Collections of Graham’s work are at the Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Lugano, Switzerland; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico; and the University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Allan Graham/TH: AS REAL as thinking will present selected works from the past 15 years in individual, yet interrelated, installations that both underscore the experience of the respective groups of works and tie together the forms and ideas that underlie them. Concurrently, SITE Santa Fe will present a gallery of paintings, selected by Allan Graham, by his friend and fellow artist Oli Sihvonen (1921-1991).
AS REAL as thinking will include works such as Judas Hangs Himself, 1984, a pivotal piece in which the painting support seems to have turned inside out or its surface to have been split and turned in on itself and Moon II, 1986, representing the period during which Graham abandoned the traditional painting format to create a series of large, eccentrically shaped, monochrome canvases.
Also part of the exhibition, TIDE, 1995, featuring four sets of cast bronze coffee mugs placed on the floor suggests the simple beauty of everyday objects while offering subtle allusions to intersections of presence and absence, fullness and emptiness.
Gus Blaisdell, Stanley Cavell, David Jones – Living Batch Bookstore Albuquerque, New Mexico
a poem discovered, unfinished, unsent,
from son to father
Dreamenwound so enhanced
High noon shadowless except
Under the soles of your boots
Glaring blaze of noon a sound
Silences engulf and swelter
“How can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods”
Around him throng the fathers
To press his gory hands
Horizon for these notions disappear
Erasing the ideas. A blackboard
Once had diagrams of the offense
Navy beats Army yesterday. And I say
This one is for you, my old dead dad.
For whom I was always being
Knocked galley west, my timbers shivered
The sun was always over the yardarm
Somewhere in the world. Aye, matey!
The Snake said, It’s the black spot for ye!
Can’t get back the dreamenwound
Lost in the bacon, toast, and scrambled eggs
In this morning’s breakfast
At the Frontier, another horizon, a limit To discoveries mainly indigestive.
a letter finished, sent, father to son
Dear Luc 12-6-84
Here’s a little something. Have a fine Christmas.
I also think of you a lot, concern and love, not worry and irritation. I too had trouble finding my place in a world that mostly scared me and one for which I felt almost completely inadequate: I was school smart but not worldly wise. I stumbled along and was lucky – as I said to you the last time we were together, if I could give you anything I have it would be my luck. But luck, it now occurs to me, is not passive. Good sense can be made out of believing we have a hand in our luck, we help make it, get ourselves in shape for it and ready ourselves to receive it (Religious people call this Gods grace because you can’t bargain for it. He gives or withholds it nobody knows how or why.)
You have a good heart and a sound intelligence. Anger and fear can offset the first, even ruin it. It is more important to have a good heart than a fine or great mind, and you have that, strong like your ability at basketball. I wonder how we could put it to the wonderful use it deserves?
Schools are odd places. They speak a strange language. Many people learn it, get the hang of the jargon – for that is what it is: plain English could as easily be spoken. But as with anything strange or foreign it can be translated into the more basic, plain and direct words of your own experience. You have to get the hang of it. One of the most important things we can learn is to be good listeners and to feel what other people are feeling, where they are coming from, their need, desires and wants. Would you feel ignorant if hearing Japanese spoken by me you didn’t understand what I was saying? No, because you could ask me to translate that into English and would know that if you could or wanted to you too could learn that odd language. Academese, the jargon spoken in schools, is just a sublanguage of English – like hipsters, bloods and Valley girls, and them argols. Learn to listen and feel, and don’t be fearful or angry. I’m reminded of something Gandhi said when he was asked by his disciples what they should do once he was gone. “Be a little kinder,” was all he said; great words, great feelings put directly and simply. Feel them. And you already have the kindness; the smarts can be picked up much more easily.
As you can see from where I began this note I’d not planned such a long letter. I guess I wanted to chat with you on the page. I want you to know these things I feel about you – kind, intelligent and loyal and loving. Nothing could be better. Your withdrawal from the world is also the world’s loss. God knows how much help it could use, how much goodness it needs –
If I go on I risk repeating myself. KISS, I tell myself. Keep It Simple Stupid, a fine rule for writing.
Don’t doubt my feelings for you.
I love you,
From the abq journal 1996
Living Batch’s Last Day Dec. 24
The Living Batch, one of the oldest bookstores in New Mexico, is closing next month, after being in business on the same block for 27 years.
On Dec. 24 it will shut its doors at 106 Cornell SE, which is next door to the Frontier restaurant.
“The main reason we’re closing is that I don’t want to do it any more,” said owner Gus Blaisdell, a parttime film instructor at the University of New Mexico.
But that decision is influenced by several factors.
One is the arrival of the mega-bookstores in the Northeast Heights.
Their immediate effect is that a variety of customers no longer shop at the Living Batch.
“Before the superstores, we discovered that the most interesting sale days in our store were weekends. People drove from all over the city to come and shop,” Blaisdell said.
Another factor is his disenchantment with mainstream publishing.
“The price of books is excluding young readers,” he said, noting that three hardback books can retail for as much as $100.
Blaisdell said he’s considered, and rejected, the notion of reducing the store’s space and narrowing the subjects to what the Living Batch specializes in — alternative fiction, poetry, politics, art and architecture, psychoanalysis and works from small presses.
If the store changed its direction and size, Blaisdell said, there probably wouldn’t be sufficient readers to buy books “in these prices, in these times in Albuquerque.”
In addition, he said, none of his children nor present or former employees expressed interest in maintaining the bookstore.
“A literary period of mass readership for the small bookstore is passing out of democratic politics,” Blaisdell said. “I think inexpensive books should be available to a large number of people, if they want to read.
“So, through various circumstances, we have become extinct.”
I GREW UP during the 1950s in the then rapidly expanding university town of Davis, California, living with my family in a brand-new tract-housing development at the very edge of a vast expanse of barley, alfalfa, sugar beet, corn, and tomato fields. My youthful roaming on foot and by bicycle regularly brought me and my friends into other nearby neighborhoods as they were being newly constructed, along with visits to some of the canneries and industrial buildings then sprouting up throughout Yolo County. We didn’t know it then, but we were living within a microcosm of the American West that was being transformed before our eyes.
Much later in life, when I moved to San Francisco in 1974 as a young artist and became a faculty member at San Francisco State University, I first met Lewis Baltz and encountered his photographs. Lewis was introduced to me by my good friend, Geoffrey Young, a talented poet and copublisher of The Figures press, who called my attention to Lewis’s Tract Houses of 1971 and his subsequent The New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California of 1974. I immediately judged these photographic projects to be a compelling new form of acerbic visual literature, one whose content resonated fully with my own life’s experience.Geoffrey Young then rang my bell again in 1980, saying that he had hot in his hands a preview copy of Park City, Lewis’s brand-new photography book. It set forth another stirring visual survey created within the American West, one strongly supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, which documented a devastated tract of land extant not far from Salt Lake City that had been heavily mined during the nineteenth century. Here was another residential-real-estate boom in the making presented for visual contemplation, this one tied to that of rapidly expanding ski-resort areas then being developed in the West. And not only did Baltz present Park City as his own powerful visual essay of lament, he also tag-teamed it in his new book with a brilliant and insightful essay authored by the writer Gus Blaisdell. Up until this time, the only photographer I admired who had actively engaged a noted writer with his work was Robert Frank, whose introduction for The Americans by Jack Kerouac became a classic pairing of images and words that is still relevant today.
Lewis Baltz,Tract House #1, from the seriesThe Tract Houses, 1971,gelatin silver print, 5 1/2 x 9”.
Lewis Baltz,Tract House #13, from the seriesThe Tract Houses, 1971,gelatin silver print, 5 1/2 x 9”.
Lewis Baltz,Foundation Construction Many Warehouses 2892 Kelvin Irvine, from the seriesThe New Industrial Parks near Irvine, California, 1974.
I had a wonderful opportunity come my way later on, during the mid-’80s, when I was asked to nominate two artists to create works in response to the public land known as Candlestick Park located on the outskirts of San Francisco. Happily, both of my nominees, Lewis Baltz and David Ireland, were awarded such commissions. And here yet again was another track of devastated land to be carefully considered and documented by Lewis, an unnatural field of construction debris that had been dumped in vast quantities into San Francisco Bay as landfill in advance of a new sports stadium that was then built on the site. Once opened, it became the home of the Giants and the 49ers and also hosted numerous concerts. The park’s vast asphalt parking lots almost surrounded the entire stadium, an austere and rubble-strewn landscape that finally ended at the Bay’s waters.
I instinctively knew that Lewis would engage this spectacle in a trenchant manner, as he proceeded to do with his Candlestick Point project, 1989, and the new book that later accompanied it. He had a bit earlier in the decade taken a close look at another tract of despoiled bayfront land, on which one of California’s oldest maximum-security prisons stands in stark isolation against natural beauty of the most arresting sort. Many of us in the field of photography knew and admired Lewis for the fine work he did on both of these very public sites, but it was not until more than a decade later, here at the Yale University Art Gallery, that I was able to both purchase and exhibit his entire Park City survey, in 2002. It was shown simultaneously with Robert Adams’s What We Bought: The New World, 1973–74, and Emmet Gowin’sAerial Photographs, 1998, and Changing the Earth, 2002—commanding photographic surveys attended with important books that offer powerful visual evidence of how humankind has been continuously transforming the natural environment within which we all live and work.
Lewis “Duke” Baltz has now left us, but his brave and remarkable legacy of visual literature will no doubt endure for a very long time via his many photographs. They provoke serious thought, waves of unease, and a terrible sense of beauty that cannot be easily shaken once they enter one’s eyes and mind.
Jock Reynolds is the Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Yale University Art Gallery.
Lewis Baltz, untitled, from the series Candlestick Point, 1989.
Below find an excerpt of Bldgs by Gus Blaisdell, his first essay on Lewis Baltz. Originally published in Three Photographic Visions, 1977. Republished in Gus Blaisdell Collected, UNM Press 2012.
I regret that I must begin in a quandary. But since I am in it and have been in it ever since I first began trying to think and write about Lewis Baltz’s photography over two years ago, this quandary is not only the place from which I must begin but it may also be the place in which, entangled, embroiled, and exasperated once again, I am forced to conclude.
Allow me to elaborate in a figure so that I may come to the various questions which will clearly indicate the ranges of my confusing (but not inchoate) concerns.
In the room in which I am presently writing this essay everything is concrete. That simple italicized phrase struck me the other morning with all the philosophical force of a secular revelation. And it persisted throughout the whole day, nagged during the conscious moments of a fitful night, and was still hauntingly present this morning when, in a mood of exasperation bordering on despondency, I once again sat down to yet another revision of my seemingly endless, as yet unfinished essay on the work of Lewis Baltz–my project a pile of notebooks, pages, file cards, jots and scribblings that has been with me nearly every day since that day in 1975 when I unexpectedly received in the mail a complimentary copy of The New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California. As I leafed through the book it steadily dawned on me that Baltz was doing something in photography specifically and in art generally that had not been done before in either domain. His work stood forth as a summary limit and an extension, a point at which the promise in the work of others was engendered and fulfilled, and a point beyond which nobody else had gone. So strong was this conviction that it expressed itself paradoxically, that Lewis Baltz was a painter who had chosen photography instead of paint in which to make significant objects. The paradox here is not in the apparent restrictions consequent upon such a choice but in the media Baltz would be crossing and in the successful translations he would have to achieve. A painter who used photography–there was something of Japanese aesthetics in that, and in the restriction of means and the accepting of the automatisms that constitute photography, further limiting this medium to work in black and white fixed images.
Again, the above also had the philosophical force of worldly revelation and it has persisted, often annoyingly, throughout the years that have lead to the present writing in this room in which everything is concrete. Nothing here is abstract unless it is my mind or the meanings my written words may carry as my sentences achieve equilibrium. Everything in this room except mind and meaning is photographable, will yield an individuated aspect that can be fixed upon film. (The difficult “things in this room” that are not obviously individual and thus fixable are light, dark, and the shadows cast by the interruption of light by objects. None of these seem either trivially concrete or plainly abstract. Penumbral seems to be the accurate term here. And the penumbral is difficult for photography not only as object matter–what the camera points at out there–but also as subject matter, what gets fixed in the frame and shown in the print; and what takes its further meanings, beyond the frame and outside the print, from whatever network of knowledge happens to contain the print centrally and essentially like an idiom or a poem.)
The only conceivable thing in this room which might be wholly abstract in relation to every other photographable thing is a photograph by Lewis Baltz, Maryland 24, a photograph which is endlessly a reminder of this quandary in which I daily encounter my thought…