|Acquisition Number: 80.30
Medium: Print, serigraph on paper
Size: 17" x 25"
Credit: Gift from Mr. W.A. Harkleroad
Didactic: John Baeder is best known for his popular paintings and prints of roadside diners. His images successfully capture the pulse of the American diner.
In the late 1950s, Baeder studied Fine Arts at Auburn University. His earliest works were expressionist figural abstractions inspired by the work of Diebenkorn, de Kooning, and Tworkov. As a student Baeder read and reread the little-known Abstract Expressionist journal of painting, poetry, and thought, “IT IS”, published in 1958-59. However, the real magic of those Auburn years was the trips back and forth, between semesters, from Atlanta to Alabama. It was during these drives that Baeder’s romance with the back roads of America stirred his love affair with diners. As a child Baeder had been nagged by a desperate urge to travel, and the reality that his father did not drive had left a void for which, during the Auburn years, he had found compensation. By the late ’60s, and many road trips later, Baeder began to expand his sights not only as a photographer but as a collector, centering on old postcards of roadside America – of the diners, gas stations, tourist camps, motels, restaurants, and the main streets of small towns that he discovered as he wound his way across the country.
With his grounding in early modern realist photography and lithography, the postcards became the perfect catalyst for Baeder to paint the “diner”. As Baeder explains,” his first impulse was to scale up the postcards and turn them into paintings”. Baeder was acutely aware of Pop Art, with its visual and sometimes technical ties to the world of advertising; he, in fact, recognized Pop Art as something new and substantial, and the opposite end of the scale of postwar abstraction. It did not take long for Baeder, through the intervention of John Kacere, to be noticed by Ivan Karp, who immediately added him to the roster of artists exhibiting at the OK Harris Gallery. It was not long before diners became the singular focus of Baeder’s paintings.
To be sure, other Photorealist chose various aspects of popular eateries as subject matter for their paintings, but none with the same dedication and rigor as Baeder. It can be argued that Baeder single handedly developed the diner image into an American icon. With tenacity and consistency he made pilgrimage after pilgrimage to capture, lovingly, first with his camera, then in paint, then prints, the images of hundreds of diners across the United States. As we look at Baeder’s images, we become aware that the diner images are a precious social record of a fast-disappearing American subculture.