Wayne Thiebaud, influencer

Just learned Wayne Thiebaud died, at 101. I didn’t know he was still alive. But I did know he had a lot of influence, most famously on pop art. Least famously, on me.

Many of Thiebaud’s landscapes were from aerial perspectives. For example, this—

—and this:

In me, those influenced this—

—and this—

—and this—

—and this—

—and this—

—and this—

—and this—

—and even this:

Like Thiebaud, I love the high angle on the easily overlooked, and opportunity for revelations not obtainable from the ground, or in the midst.

Example. Can you guess where these mountains are?

Try Los Angeles. I shot that, as I did the others in this album, during the approach to LAX on a flight from Houston.

Here’s another shot in that series:

That’s 10,068-foot Mt. San Antonio, aka Old Baldy, highest of the San Gabriel Mountains. These are Los Angeles’ own Alps, which wall the north side of the L.A. basin, thwarting sprawl in that direction. The view is up San Antonio Canyon, below which lays a suburb-free delta of rocks and gravel spreading outward from canyon’s mouth. Across that mouth, and in a series of of similar ones below is a dam. These are for slowing “debris flows” coming out of the mountains after heavy rains, and sorting the flows’ contents into boulders, rocks, and gravel. Businesses that trade in these geological goods are also sited there. Imagine a business selling fresh lava from the base of a volcano, and you have some idea of how rapidly the geology changes here.

Anyway, while there is Thiebaud-informed art to that shot, there is also a purpose: I want people to see how these mountains are alive and dangerous in ways unlike no others flanking a city.

My main influence toward that purpose is John McPhee, the best nonfiction writer ever to walk the Earth—and report on it. Dig Los Angeles Against the Mountains. Doesn’t get better than that.

McPhee is 90 now. I dread losing him.

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