Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Gallery In the Sun

"His hand trembled as he struck the match.  But he didn't hesitate.  He reached down and touched off a bonfire that consumed 100 of his oil paintings, watercolors and sketches valued at an estimated $250,000.
Ted DeGrazia, the Tucson, Arizona artist, shocked the art world on the night of May 12, 1976 with his blazing protest against the Internal Revenue Service. " (from a newspaper article of the day)

Even though I had been there four times before I passed up the entrance twice before I saw the sign...

I was still not feeling the best after my bout of stomach upset but I had been cooped up for several  days in the house; the paint and glue smells from the work being done, and the need to visit the Apple store all forced me out of the house.  So I took advantage of a spectacularly sunny day and packed a sandwich for lunch with the idea of visiting this gallery that is very near the Apple store in Northwest Tucson.

If you were around in the 50s or 60s then you will surely recognize his art.  It was (according to the critics) the kitsch-of-the-day and, I confess,  one of his prints hung on the kitchen wall of our home when Roger and I were first married.

Look familiar?

Ted DeGrazia built his gallery out of 'found materials'  high up in the Catalina foothills. The door to the building is reminiscent of a mine entrance and was inspired by his birthplace, a small mining town in southern Arizona.

He was an artist, sculptor, musician, builder, craftsman, and back-to-nature hippy (according to several of my friends who knew him.)
The inside of the gallery is part and parcel of the desert….  

Walls of adobe and native grasses,

and the floor is composed of sections of LaCholla cactus, cut into 4" slices and imbedded into cement, then varnished.

Here and there are patterns, and occasionally a lovely chunk of turquoise.

There are lots of nooks for displays of his works...

But no windows.  Light came in through little holes around to tops of the rooms.

 And there were many, many rooms; 15 or more. 

Of all his work, and there is a lot of it on display, I like his horses the best.

But he did pottery and jewelry and ironwork and sculpting.

This is a wall hanging in cloth.


He clearly had an affinity for the natives of the area--the Indians and the Hispanics.

He built a small chapel on the property and Indian weddings were often held here. 

The critics may have frowned upon his work but people drove from hundreds, even thousands of miles away to find his gallery and buy his work.  And at that time it was miles outside of the city along a steep and unmaintained dirt road.

Ted DeGrazia burned his paintings because his heirs could not have them without paying taxes on their market value.
He explained it this way, "I thought about this for a long time before I did it.  I tried to give my paintings to the University of Arizona but they didn't have any room to hang them, they told me."

"If an artist wants to take a tax deduction for his paintings, he is allowed only the few dollars it costs him for paint, canvas and other materials.  Yet when the artist dies, the government wants to collect taxes from his heirs on the market value of the paintings.  That's when I decided to burn them."
The angry artist had been hurt by the refusal of his alma mater to accept his paintings, so he tossed them into a Jeep and headed for the Superstition Mountains.   When he reached Apache Junction some of his friends met him.  "Nobody tried to stop me," he said.  "Once I had made up my mind, that was it." 

Later DeGrazia sat in a chair on his patio behind his studio and told the reporter how he felt when he saw his art work going up in flames.  "For a long time I sat and looked at the paintings…" and then he described the subjects, the settings, the incidents that each brought to mind.
He was accused of creating a publicity stunt, of burning only prints. But they were truly all originals-- and he never painted again.

(Next:  The house and gardens)


  1. I think his art was godawful, but the house is lovely. Glad you are feeling better!

  2. It seems that the University felt the same about his art.