In her final years, author Eve Babitz was rediscovered as an essential Los Angeles literary voice, fluent in the ways of high art and rock & roll, and as a hometown rival to Joan Didion.
Lesser known was Babitz’s earlier life as a visual artist, creating vivid collages and photography, now destined to receive new attention with the recent purchase of her archives by The Huntington Library in San Marino.
The library bought the archive through a donation from Babitz’s old friend and onetime paramour Steve Martin and took possession of the material several months before Babitz’s death last December at 78: six boxes of visual material and six more of her letters and other writings, including the only known manuscript of her first book, Travel Broadens, written when she was 20 and never published.
Babitz sent a copy of the book to Catch-22 author Joseph Heller, but when insufficient encouragement followed, she focused on making collages for record covers by the Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds, as well as “an incredible collage of Jim Morrison that I really value,” says her sister, Mirandi Babitz, the executor of her estate.
“Eve worked in so many different media and genres,” says Karla Nielsen, curator of curator of Huntington’s literary collections.. “Her collages are really interesting to think about with her writing. She was someone who took early 20th century European avant-gardism for granted.”
As a photographer with an especially active social life, Babitz documented important cultural figures with portraits of Didion, Neil Young, the Eagles, Gram Parsons, Jackson Browne, JD Souther, Annie Leibovitz and a shirtless Steve Martin – most of them shot before they became famous.
“She was documenting her friends,” says Nielsen, “but also people she thought were talented and interesting.” Babitz recorded her personal history too, regularly visiting a favorite photo booth in Hollywood for impromptu self-portraits.
The archive was initially curated by the Babitz sisters’ mother, artist Mae Babitz, who understood its potential value and aesthetic worth, never acknowledged when Eve was alive. As Mae told Mirandi: “They’re going to come looking for Eve..”
When the archive, left undisturbed in Eve’s cupboards for decades until passing to Mirandi after Eve moved into assisted living a year before her death, Mirandi insisted that it not be broken up and “dispersed all over creation” She wanted the entirety of Eve’s papers and artwork accessible to researchers and available for public display. “I didn’t want Evie’s stuff to disappear.”
Mirandi says that before her death, Eve approved the final destination for her life’s work, noting the sister’ connection the famous paintings they knew there.
“We used to hang out [at the Huntington] as children,” Mirandi says. “I know she was attached to the place. She said that she wanted to hang out with The Blue Boy and Pinkie again.”
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