Coast of California – Tom Killion

The Coast of California by Tom KillionTom Killion perfects the effort of capturing California’s coast visually, and in text, with his book, Coast of California. First handprinted in 1979 from his Santa Cruz garage, then reprinted in 1987 by a Boston publisher, Tom initially focused his work geographically from Point Reyes to Point Sur. The second printing stretched out to encompass further north to Mendocino scenes such as Westport and southward to include the extinct volcano and quarried Morro Rock, as well as Palisades Park in Santa Monica.

Hard-to-find used, and even then, steeply-priced, Tom’s art book expands my heart with its intention “…to illustrate the visual images of the living world with some past, present and future perceptions of the human world we have created along this coast.” One can now buy the book in paperback, freshly printed from Tom’s Quail Press.

Coast of California “…is an attempt to understand our place in the living world of the California coast, how we came to be here and how we may stay here without destroying the very beauty and power which attract us.”

Tom’s visuals, elegantly carved from (what is a clunky medium in my past feeble attempts), the wood block, explores in lively detail the many layers of California’s coastscape. Tom provides scenic intimacy with shore views behind tassels atop slender grasses, puckered flowers, a kelp-ripppled sea finding comfort in coves, long curved lines of an incoming set, arching waves running up beaches in several gradients of frothy whitewater action, a push of foam, dark wet sand, and then, the dry upper reaches of the beach dotted with sea lions.

Rarely does the Coast Road appear in Tom’s images. A hint of the Golden Gate Bridge appears in the upper-right corner of the colorless navy-and-white, “Kirby Cove.” The last print in Coast of California, “Pt. Sur from Kasler Point,” allows for a single, straight, thin line to portray the highway running along the lower portion of the mountainside, turning out of view at the road-cut altered, previously-seamless, cliff profile.

Snippets of Tom’s text:

The Coast Road stretches south
The Buddhists crawl north, 50,000 prayers per mile
Mexico to Canada on hands and knees
Foreheads pressed beside the road in penitence for our sins
Along the road they squat, half hidden by grass
Like farmworkers’ shanties in the arroyos
Walled in by road fill, no opening on the shining sea.”


Beneath the narrow fields, fishy with fertilizer
Vestige of an ocean floor long since eroded to a final shelf
Where the coast road snakes into the closing night

The somber cover of high fog cleared off at eventide
and from the south the helicopter gunship came in staccato,
growing sound up the coast, exploding the fading evening sky
red lights flashing on olive drab, malevolent dragon form
grim reminder of distand wars, the machine death
which builds low-slung, howling cars
the glittering road separating the coast from our lives
once traveled by frightened children
long lines of cars through artichoke fields
to jump on the Sunday-tourist filled highway

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