Fall 2008

Artist Project / Cabrillo’s Vanity

A coastal collapse

Christopher James and Florian Maier-Aichen

I went to photograph this arch off the California coast last winter to use as a reference in a painting I was working on. It’s named after the first European to explore the coast. When he passed this point in the autumn of 1542, he saw an apparition through the arch that persuaded him to turn the ship around and abandon any further exploration. Due to a phenomenon involving the sunlight, the angle of the water, the sea spray, and the shape of the arch, you can sometimes see a reflection in the opening, which apparently Cabrillo did. 

Recently, I was nearby and went to see the arch again. When I arrived, it was no longer there; it had collapsed. Then I recalled having seen it collapse on my first visit. I don’t know why I forgot having seen it collapse. Here are photographs of the before and after. I tried basically to get the same shot the second time for comparison.

I now remember hearing the loud crack while I had the camera up to my eye, and then seeing the thing collapse partially through the viewfinder. I must have taken this one just a second before, because I remember at the time being concerned whether or not I had gotten it in time. As it turned out, I did and was able to use it to paint from. So this is the last photograph taken of Cabrillo’s Arch.

Christopher James is an artist based in Los Angeles. He is the co-author of “–gone wild,” an ongoing sculpture project that can be seen at www.thehouseoflazyj.org. He is currently soliciting sponsorship funding for a journey to Ultima Thule, the recently discovered but as yet untouched northernmost point of land on Earth.

Florian Maier-Aichen is a German artist working in Cologne and Los Angeles. He received his MFA in 2001 from the University of California, Los Angeles. He recently exhibited at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, and his second solo exhibition at 303 Gallery, New York, opens in spring 2009.

If you’ve enjoyed the free articles that we offer on our site, please consider subscribing to our nonprofit magazine. You get twelve online issues and unlimited access to all our archives.