John Baeder is one of the most prominent of the photo-realists. He is particularly well known for his depictions of diners and American roadside culture. He was born in South Bend, Indiana in 1938 on Christmas Eve and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. In the late 1960s, Baeder started collecting postcards and photographs of roadside America and urban environments, developing a sensitivity for the beauty and value found in roadside iconography. Although his artistic reputation was quickly cemented in the early 1970s by the success of his paintings, Baeder has always depended on his photographs as the photo-realist qualities of his painting demonstrate.
John Baeder often photographed the places he wished to paint, working from his own photographs to compose his paintings. Originally serving as source material for his paintings, Baeder’s photographs are now considered as stand-alone works of art. As the artist himself says, “There are some photographs that scream to be paintings, and some that just want to be photographs.” The photographs are records of very specific places, things, times of day, times of year, and eras with an uncanny knack of capturing the light of the moment. They encapsulate not only the architectural detail and presence of structures, but also a sense of the moment. For Baeder, a single moment stretches into a story and creates a sense of something happening, about to happen, or having happened.
John Baeder’s paintings and photographs are included in permanent collections of such institutions as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2009, Baeder was awarded the Tennessee Governor’s Distinguished Artist Award. John Baeder’s work has helped make the diner an American icon; his art serves as an aesthetic record of the quickly disappearing American roadside culture that so engaged him.