Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lumens, photograms, chemigrams: new pictures from Bashir

Bashir, Falling, 2014
After a 4-year hiatus (see the Bashir post for Sept 2010 here) I wanted to see what Bobby Bashir was doing - I never seemed to catch up with him although we'd spoken on the phone often enough.  I knew he'd left the Monterey Peninsula and was working somewhere near Paso Robles.  So a few weeks ago I called to say I was coming down.  He asked me to bring fixer and developer because he had none, and could I lend him some Foma and maybe some Forte, if I had any, two of his favorite papers?  It seems like he'd run out of supplies a few months back and just hadn't gotten around to reordering.  By midsummer he slows down, he says, the drowsy days make him less keen to do much outside of work, and his artmaking pretty much comes to a halt.  My visit hopefully would change that.

It was afternoon when I pulled in.  He greeted me outside the restaurant in high spirits and fussed over details of my trip.  Was I tired?  He insisted I eat before doing anything.  He signaled to a red-smocked girl leaning by the kitchen and in no time a huge plate appeared, laden with steaks of abalone, squid, peppers, squash and tomatoes - I was ambushed.  "But Bobby, you didn't have to!"  "You've got to try my new salsa on the abalone - it's a secret recipe!" he grinned.  We sat outside.  Business was slow, so Bobby helped me finish a bottle of cab as we traded gossip and laughed.  Before long - I'd finished what I could - he took me to a shed in the back where he kept a sort of studio which doubled as a gardening closet for the winter garden of the restaurant.  He was eager to show me his newer pieces. 

Bashir, Gathering, 2014

Bashir, Watching, 2014

Bashir, Knowing, 2014
I couldn't hide my excitement on seeing these.  A lot had changed: his palette was freer and darker, his intent more dramatic.  And yet he was working as he has always done and as he was taught, with simple steps and few variables.  The choices are still there: paper, developer, fixer, wash, sunlight, material to draw with, and time.  "Time is the most important of these, just like in cooking.  It's how everything happens, even life - especially life," he says, talking from the other Bobby inside of him.  "It took a billion years for the first bacteria to emerge on earth.  So I ask myself, how long should I leave a piece in the sun?  Where is the sun in the sky and what kind of light are we getting?"
As he talks he begins to assemble a few materials on a piece of Foma.  This one will feature blueberries and a few small leaves.  As a rule he wets the surface with tea, coffee, or fruit juice, or spritzes it with fixer or developer - just a smidgen - or sometimes sprinkles a few drops of a random chemical from the gardening supplies.  He's done and now moves quickly toward the sun, the paper and blueberries pressed between two sheets of glass.  The smush of berries leaks out the side.  He encourages this and rocks the setup back and forth so that liquids bathe different regions of the paper.  Then he props it on a wad of napkins on a crate, letting the sun strike it at an angle.  How long?  "Five minutes to an hour, that's my world.  Everything I do is inside that."  He says he's particularly fond of the slanting reddish light at the end of the day, the long rays favored by the poets.  He looks more serious today than I remember him.  Yes, there are still the festoons of flowers (or flowerlike materials), and the twisty garlands of tones that have given his work its special rhythm, but his intensity speaks of a determination to push this thing as far as he can, far beyond decoration and niceness.  I'm wondering if he had a fight with Chris.

While we wait for the sun and juices to join forces on his paper, he sets up trays, apologizing:  "I rarely use developer for more than a second, if that.  Still, I need that tray ready."  He has a fixer tray and a wash tray close at hand, and an eyedropper and a brush.  We have a moment, so he pulls out some lumens from earlier in the year to show me.  I'm reminded suddenly of the Flemish baroque masters who trafficked in that same conceit of flowers.  Here's Nicolaes van Verendael in 1676, now at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London:

Van Verendael, Flowers beneath a cartouche, 1676

I realize too that what Bobby is making is really a photogram, in a sense, as well as a chemigram - that there is a continuum that takes us over all these separate 'disciplines' and demonstrates their common ancestry.  Chemicals, juices, stencils, cutouts, resists - these are the tools and it's just a shift in emphasis or outlook to pass from one to the other.  I watch now as his hands fly over the trays and minute interventions are made on the piece he's creating.  Then, at a certain moment, a moment very familiar to chemigramists, he stops.  "Done!" he cries, and there's that grin again.  He hangs it to dry; it'll be called Falling and it's at the top of this post.  He puts together a bundle of lumens to take with me.  We have an espresso, a hug, and it's adiós.  The red-smocked girl runs to my car at the last minute with a chicken tamale, all wrapped for the ride.

Bashir, Loving, 2014
Bashir, Dreaming, 2014


  1. Bobby's new prints are gorgeous indeed. My favorite among them - the turbulent and magnificent "Falling", which I've been looking at all day. Lovely to read of how such humble materials are transformed into images so sensuous and grand. Thank you both for sharing with us.

    1. Thank you Eva for your kind comment - I'll pass it on to Bobby. Frankly I'm astonished at what he's creating just as you are. Some of his works approach magnificence, a term that's not much in vogue these days but there's no other way to describe it. Yet his audience is basically no one but himself, and his aims are simple.

  2. Thanks Doug for letting us know more about Bobby! He would be a wonderful person to meet and perhaps someday that will be.
    I assume these are about 8x10.

    1. His trays as well as his glass plates (for holding the materials to the paper) look to be about 9x11, so the paper is smaller, sized arbitrarily I would say. He cuts down from 16x20 or 11x14. The scale is related to the size of the plant material.

  3. Thanks for sharing Bashir's exquisite, elegant, and fragile work (I wonder how the originals change over time), and its uncanny 'simplicity'. I am totally overwhelmed (and envious) by their colors, their richness and their subtle shifts.
    The text is great too.
    I wonder if the food at the restaurant is just as good.

  4. I still have the lumens he gave me 4 years ago and the colors were intact the last time I looked. In August 2011 we did a post on the lightfastness of chemigram colors which covered this kind of issue. And as you know, the big color shifts only occur in the drying phase, the first hours after the wash. But your question is pertinent given the amazing gamut in Bobby's colors.
    As to his food, that's an art that nearly eclipses this one. Strange to say, I think he's fine with that.

  5. Gorgeously elegant images by Bobby and eloquently expressive writing by Doug. How you complement the almost lickable (not surprising in view of the sources) charm of the images with your prose amazes me, Doug. The visit must have been perfect, your writing about it and Bobby's images bring it alive. Great blog work indeed.