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Vern Blosum, Phantom

Chatsworth, established in 1888 in the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley, took its name from the family seat of the Duke of Devonshire. The developers who subdivided this part of Ex-Mission San Fernando, formerly called Rancho El Escorpión, preferred to associate themselves with England’s landed gentry rather than with the poisonous arachnids native to the place. As in Hollywood, another formerly rural tract absorbed into the city of Los Angeles, efforts to elevate the tone of the area were never entirely successful.

Companies producing mainstream entertainment, including the one responsible for the television programme 24, have maintained offices in Chatsworth, but they have generally been overshadowed by the more enduring presence of the sex industry; besides many porn studios, the trade publication Adult Video News has its headquarters in the neighbourhood, and sex toys are manufactured there. Most recently, Chatsworth distinguished itself as the place where the figure of Vern Blosum, a painter whose work achieved notoriety in the early 1960s, started to emerge from obscurity.

 

In February 2006, Jon and Tina Cassar bought a painting that looked like Pop Art, as anyone would say: a realistic depiction of a parking meter captioned with the text ‘Twenty Five Minutes’ (the amount of time left on the meter) in the kind of plain block letters used by professional sign painters. Jon Cassar, a producer of 24, which consists of hour-long episodes unfolding in an hour of real time, must have felt almost as though the painting, with its image of a finite period time about to expire, had been made expressly for him. The Cassars’ notes describe the circumstances: ‘Purchased, Twenty Five Minutes, Vern Blosum 1962, at a price of $10.00. In Chatsworth, CA. At a corner storage lot. Due to storage container being vacated. Unknown reasons why. Unknown owner. Maybe due to no longer paying rental storage fees or could be it was left unclaimed.’ After taking the painting home, the new owners found on the back of it a label reading, ‘L. A. Co. Museum of Art, LOAN CAT 88, MR. & MRS. L. ASHER.’ In the course of their first internet search, they found another parking meter painting, ‘Time Expired’ (1962), which had been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Thus began their research into ‘Twenty Five Minutes’ and the artist who painted it.

 

Further inquiries yielded references to three exhibitions in which Vern Blosum had participated. The Popular Image, organised by Alice Denney, at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, 18 April—2 June, 1963, included a series of paintings of parking meters at fifty, forty, thirty, twenty, and ten minutes before expiration, with a final painting entitled ‘Violation’. Pop Art USA, organised by John Coplans, at the Oakland Art Museum, 7—29 September, 1963, included ‘Twenty Five Minutes’, ‘lent by the L. M. Asher family, Los Angeles’. Mixed Media and Pop Art at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 19 November — 15 December, 1963, included a parking meter painting called ‘Mass Violation’, lent by the Sonja Henie-Niels Onstad Collection. After these three shows in one year, there are no further references in Vern Blosum’s exhibition record, with a single prominent exception.


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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

is an artist and filmmaker who in recent years has turned to writing. His books include Tearoom (2008), "Killed": Rejected Images of the Farm Security Administration (2010), Halstead Plays Himself (2011), Imitation of Christ (2013), and Flesh and the Cosmos (2014). He lives in Los Angeles.

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