A Road Well Taken
In the late 1950s, John Baeder drove the back roads from his home in Atlanta to Auburn University in Alabama where he was studying fine art. The diners, gas stations, tourist camps, motels and restaurants he “unconsciously saw” along the way fueled a desire to collect the ubiquitous 1920s to 1940s postcards of obscure diners. “I saw them as small paintings,” he says. He later enlarged the images in his own paintings to 42 by 66 inches. The fascination also fueled a desire to later take road trips to investigate small town America.
When he was an advertising executive he began making his paintings, and in February 1972 showed the first four to Ivan Karp, proprietor of the O.K. Harris Gallery in New York. Baeder quit his job in April and had his first show at Karp’s annex space, Hundred Acres Gallery, the following September.
“While in advertising,” he says, “I’d
pay attention to the art world and always visited galleries. Working on the Pillsbury account (pancakes, brownies and new products), I was the first to put truckers in a diner using their low-calorie sweetener for a TV spot. The idea was shot down. (Now look at all the diners in TV spots!)”
Traveling with his mother by train from Atlanta to Chicago, Baeder recalls the thrill of eating in the dining car and being “glued to the window looking at the backsides of small towns. I enjoyed the little landscapes framed by the window.”
Baeder not only puts himself into his paintings—“They represent me. They’re who I am.”—he adds elements to the original postcard images. In one painting of John’s Diner with John’s Chevelle he inserted the trusty car that he had bought new in 1968. The car took him on many road trips and appears in the painting in 1976, a little the worse for wear.
Charlotte’s Diner, Ellenville, NY, 2012, emphasizes the horizontal symmetry of the sleek, manufactured diner. The symmetry of the painting itself is thrown off by the fuel tank on the left.
When Baeder says the paintings represent him, he means that in a way far deeper than a remembrance of things past. “Everything I do is psychological,” he says. As a follower of Jungian psychology, he recognizes the feminine in the diner—a representation of the great mother, the provider of nourishment. The horizontal represents the feminine whereas the vertical represents the masculine.
At the time of the publication of Jay Williams’ book on his work, John Baeder’s Road Well Taken in 2015, his Nashville songwriter friends Ken Spooner and Fred Koller wrote a song to accompany it. The song, A Road Well Taken, is the basis of a short film by Kaki Campbell that can be seen on YouTube.
He will have his first exhibition at Bernarducci Gallery in New York, November 1 through December 15.
2Charlotte’s Diner, Ellenville, NY, oil on canvas, 24 x 36"3The Embassy, oil on canvas, 24 x 36"3