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Pleasant Journeys and Good Eats Along the Way: A Retrospective of Paintings by John Baeder

July 11 - October 26, 2008


John Baeder (1938- ) is best known for his realistic depictions of American diners. He was born in South Bend, Indiana and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Auburn University, before embarking on a career in advertising in 1960. He worked as an art director, first in Atlanta, from 1960-64 and, later, in New York City. Currently, Baeder lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee, his home since 1981. (right: John Baeder (1938- ), Al Mac's Diner, 1991, Oil on canvas, 30 x 48 inches, 31 ? x 49 5/8 x 2 ? inches (framed). Collection of Philbrook Art Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma, museum purchase, 1998.9)

In New York, Baeder took photographs, capturing parts of the urban landscape that were beginning to disappear, especially the homier eating establishments. He kept his skills sharp by drawing, painting and taking photographs, while his job as an art director kept him focused on American material culture. Gradually, he made the transition from advertising to art.

As a child, he lived for awhile with his parents, grandparents and sister in the Biltmore Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. The Majestic restaurant was just across the street from the hotel, and Baeder says that some of his earliest memories were sitting on a stool at the lunch counter. Years later, Baeder returned to Atlanta and created a painting of the Majestic.

Baeder believes diners have a personal atmosphere filled with action, and they are part of the American landscape that "fit into their urban context like modern folk heroes."

After becoming the director of a large advertising agency, Baeder began collecting postcards from the 1920s to the 1940s that were American in origin. He realized his attraction to them had to do with the angle and composition of the photographs and spent hours studying the postcards. He decided to paint images based on these postcards.

In 1972, Baeder began making black and white paintings, becoming more and more entranced with details, and in 1974 he painted his first natural color painting. He continues to create colorful images of diners.

In 1974, Ivan Karp began exhibiting Baeder's paintings at OK Harris Gallery. Since then his work has been the subject of more than 30 solo exhibitions and included in more than 150 group shows. Baeder's artworks are owned by many major institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Denver Art Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, The Newark Museum, The High Museum of Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Detroit Institute of Arts, Yale University Art Gallery, Asheville Art Museum and Morris Museum of Art, as well as corporate and private collections in Europe, Japan and the United States.

John Baeder is the author of three popular books: Diners (Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1978 and 1995), Gas, Food and Lodging (Abbeville Press, New York, 1986) and Sign Language: Street Signs as Folk Art (Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1996). Together, the paintings and writings have impacted the commercial arena with such force that they might be considered a primary catalyst in the resurgence of current diner mania, fostered by prestigious restaurateurs and their neo-diners. The acclaim that Baeder's art draws is a measure of a passion that goes well beyond reportage or the ability to capture the more casual elements of the American culture as do some Photorealists. More than any other realist, John Baeder has returned the favor to the very culture that inspired him.

In addition to his talent as an artist, Baeder sees himself a preservationist. He is committed to preserving the diners that once dotted the American landscape. This passion for his subject matter distinguishes Baeder from many of the artists who are considered Photorealists and were more interested in the formal aspects of translating a photographic image into a painted image than they were in their subjects.

Each of Baeder's diners possesses its own unique combination of architecture, menu and signage, where as the eating establishments that sprang up in the 1950s and 60s were based on uniformity. Driving down the highway and spotting Al Mac's Diner (1991, o/c) for the first time one is offered the opportunity for a distinct experience. Pulling up under the giant Big Boy sign, one is assured of an experience consistent with prior visits to a Big Boy restaurant. Baeder said, "I find sacredness in diners....The diner is the Mother symbol -- the great provider."

This exhibition was organized by the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia.


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