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Photorealistic Paintings of Disappearing Americana

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Stardust, 1976. (All Photos: © John Baeder/ Courtesy The Vendome Press

In 1972, John Baeder was working as an art director at a successful New York advertising agency. In his spare time, he did painting and photography, and took road trips across America. During these journeys, he began collecting color postcards of roadside attractions like diners, gas stations, and motels. That same year, he quit his job to pursue painting full-time. His first four works were inspired by his frequent visits to the photography department of MoMA, and based on the color postcards from the roadtrip, “to see what they’d look like as paintings.”

John Baeder is now known as one of the first photorealist artists. The genre, whereby scenes are painted to closely resemble a photograph, only began in the late 1960s. The term was not used in print until the Whitney Museum decided to mention it in a 1970 catalog. 

Over 300 of John Baeder’s works have been brought together in a new monograph called Road Well Taken. Below, take a closer look at his nostalgic scenes of Americana in this selection from Atlas Obscura.   

Big Boy Bop, 1986. 

Blue Suede Shoe Shine Parlor, 1994.

Col. Poole’s Pig Hill-of-Fame, 1994. 

American, 2001. 

Super Duper Weenie, 2000. 

The Bar-B-Cu-tie, 2004.

Night Owl, 2000. 

Silver Top Diner, 1974.

Broadway Diner, 1991. 

The cover for John Baeder’s Road Well Taken.