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…
Gus Blasidell and Clark Coolidge Albuquerque, New Mexico © Nicole Bliasdell Ivey
Gus published Clark Coolidge’s NOW ITS JAZZ Writings on Kerouac & The Sounds
*Excerpt from SPD website– “Music. Cultural Writing. Perhaps no living American poet has taken Kerouac, jazz and bop prosody into as many original directions as Clark Coolidge. In his inimitable prose, Coolidge recalls and explores the role Kerouac (Part 1) and jazz (Part 2) have played in his artistic development. A book of tremendous energy from the very first sentence: ON THE ROAD was first handed to me by somebody in a dorm at Brown, my sophomore year, 1957-58. ‘Here, read this.”
Claremont 1971 (standing left to right Hap Tivey, James Turrell, Gus Blaisdell, Lewis Baltz, seated Mowry Baden, Guy Williams)
“It Happened at Pomona: Art at the Edge of Los Angeles 1969-1973 — Part 3: At Pomona”
“Part 3: At Pomona” demonstrates how Pomona College’s extraordinary community, inspired by the atmosphere created by curators Hal Glicksman and Helene Winer, developed some of the most important aesthetic currents of the late 20th century. These artists, both faculty and students, engaged the developing legacies of Conceptualism and Minimalism and forged transformations of these ideas that became prototypes for future generations. This exhibition chronicles the experimental art that emerged in the late 1960s and the role played by Pomona College in advancing these practices.
The period covered by “Part 3” roughly equates with a renaissance in Pomona’s arts community that can be traced to Mowry Baden’s ’58 arrival as chairman of the art department in 1968 (he served as professor until 1971), and which ended, in 1973, with the mass departure of the arts faculty in protest over, among other causes, Helene Winer’s dismissal due to the notorious Wolfgang Stoerchle performance seen in “Part 2.” During this period, Pomona faculty and alumnus James Turrell was performing his first ganzfeld experiments and conducting flare performances; Lewis Baltz was at work on his legendary Tract Houses series; and Mowry Baden was creating interactive sculptures that would have a profound effect on his students, among them Chris Burden ’69, Michael Brewster ’68 and Peter Shelton ’73. Burden was transitioning from architecture to sculpture to performance. Brewster was exploring the potential of light and sound as an artistic medium, while Shelton was experimenting with corrosion as a painterly medium, which would have a lasting effect on his eventual career as a sculptor.
Central to this group is the under-recognized work of Mowry Baden. His interest in movement and its impact on perception clearly echoes many of the aesthetic concerns that informed works produced through Hal Glicksman’s Artist’s Gallery exhibition program. Baden’s particular articulation of these concerns in works that require viewers to interact and physically operate the sculptures demonstrate a more performative and collaborative approach to audiences that prefigures much contemporary work today.
This book is a look at the writing,the life, and the letters of an exceptional writer who lived the zeitgeist of his time by writing, editing and selling books. He also helped other
writers get published and noticed. He also taught. And he also loved loquats.And women. And he writes about all of these-and more- in this wonderful book.The intellectual life he engaged was from The Beats to Postmodernism. Blaisdell was a writer and thinker who had interests in the Classics, Asian poetry, art, culture, psychology and philosophy. He created a rich world in his writing and that is here in a collection of essays, poems and letters that explore art, photography, philosophy, and film.
Blaisdell’s talent as a writer and thinker in these engaging essays is evident in how he uses words, structure, metaphor and image in writing about culture and meaning.
The essays about his life and his letters-along with an excellent timeline of his life-round out the book. The photographs in the book are an excellent counterpoint that capture the hero as he ages, travels and investigates art and culture. A photograph in the book of Gus Blaisdell encountering a Matisse exhibit taken by Nicole Blaisdell Ivey is a truly great photograph that shows a man encountering art and caught in the experience of art. In fact-the whole book is related to how Blaisdell wrote about that encounter.
Farewell, Evan Connell
January 10, 2013
Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press is sad to announce the death of author Evan S. Connell. Mr. Connell died Wednesday night after several years of declining health. He was 88.
Evan Connell has long been recognized as one of the most important American voices of contemporary letters. A novelist, short story writer, and poet, Connell is the author of seventeen books, including Deus lo Volt!, The Aztec Treasure House,Points for a Compass Rose, Lost in Uttar Pradesh, and the bestselling Son of the Morning Star, which was made into a 1991 miniseries.
His novels Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969) were adapted into the critically acclaimed 1990 Merchant-Ivory film Mr. and Mrs. Bridge starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Wallace Stegner said of Mrs. Bridge that “[It] is a hell of a portrait…She’s as real and as pathetic and as sad as any character I have read in a long time.”
Connell was awarded the Robert Kirsch Award (a Los Angeles Times Book Prize) for “a living author with a substantial connection to the American West, whose contribution to American letters deserves special recognition.” Counterpoint Press will publishing a new edition of his book of prose poems, Notes From a Bottle Found on the Beach in Carmel, in February 2013.
In 2009 Evan Connell was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize, for lifetime achievement. He was born on 17 August, 1924, in Kansas City, Missouri and attended Dartmouth College and the University of Kansas. Connell is also an alumni of Stanford and Columbia universities.
Evan Connell lived and worked in Sante Fe, NM.
Gus wrote an extended essay called “After Ground Zero: The Writings of Evan Connell, Jr.” New Mexico Quarterly (Summer 1966). An excerpt is published in Gus Blaisdell Collected titled VATIC WRITING Evan S. Connell Notes from a Bottle… p.185
A note from Pulitzer prize-winning author,N. Scott Momaday, discussing GUS BLAISDELL COLLECTED (Gus was editor on Momaday’s second book, The Way to Rainy Mountain, published by UNM press).
Dear Nicole,The book is a clear mirror of the man. It is beautiful and moving. Gus and I made a legendary journey to Rainy Mountain in the hard weather that shapes mind and memory. It was a quest, a journey eminently worth making.With deepest thanks.Scott
DISCUSSING GUS at UNM bookstore Wednesday December 5th at 4pm