Southern California is one of those places where the cross-currents of cultural influences converge, mingle and reshape themselves into sometimes new and interesting expressions; to outsiders the results can sometimes seem a bit too eclectic or unresolved, but for the initiated it is proof of an order of creative vitality that makes this part of the United States a perennial trend-setter.
Chris Darrow is one of those unique creatures of the Southern California landscape. He is a native who grew up in Claremont, a foothill community 40 miles east of Los Angeles that is also home to several posh private colleges and a place that has produced more artists, musicians, and Hollywood types per capita than any other place you can name. He still lives there, sharing the family home with one of his sisters, and works out of a studio nestled behind the house in a garden of bamboo and other exotic plants. The studio is filled with memorabilia of his career as a musician and composer as well as the records of his progress as an artist and photographer. Around the place, too, are the things he likes to collect -- the Virgins of Guadalupe, the American Indian artifacts, the funky art pieces, the remnants of his surfing past, oddball instruments, and a vintage jukebox.
Darrow was one of the original members of the legendary 60s band, Kaleidoscope. He later joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, appeared in the movie Paint Your Wagon, played with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, produced albums for the known and unknown, and authored some of the best in bluegrass, rock n'roll and world beat music (before it was called "world beat") to come out of California. Add to that album covers he has done for Starr Parodi, David Lindley and Henry Keiser, Mojave, The Cache Valley Drifters, Swampdogs, and Los Chumps, not to mention his latest recording projects -- Coyote-Straight from the Heart, and Harem Girl. But for all of that he has managed to keep focused on his roots as an artist and photographer. Both his mother and his father are artists, and he grew up surrounded by some of the best West Coast painters and sculptors of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. His father, who taught painting and drawing at Scripps College in Claremont, encouraged him to take formal training in art, which he did until music became more immediately compelling.
Darrow has been making photographs since he was nine years old, however. His first camera was Brownie Hawkeye. He and a school friend formed a camera club, which, with true Southern California flair they called the Flashy Boys Camera Club. It was later, into his second fling with cohabitation (his wife having run off with a photographer, he says), when he got truly serious with his picture making, acquired a 35mm camera and began to take the kinds of photographs you find on postcards. He had long collected old postcards for the art in them, and tried to make photographs with that singular "look and feel."
Over the years Darrow has produced photographs in three broad themes: the Vanishing West, Shrines of Passion, and the Goddesses. It is from The Vanishing West and Shrines of Passion that we draw the work for this exhibit.
"The Vanishing West is the big-picture view of the loss of our heritage, including some of our most interesting landmarks," says Darrow. "As for Shrines of Passion I have always loved calligraphy, signs, and painting on walls and buildings... shrines of personal freedom."