Spotlight: John Divola
In his early 20s, photographer John Divola found himself drawn to the silver butane tanks in the black and white images he was shooting. That discovery, over 40 years ago, led the Los Angeles native who studied at California State University Northridge and University of California Los Angeles, to buy cans of silver spray paint and cruise around looking for something to shoot with the camera in his car. “Then it occurred to me that you can’t just get out of your car and start painting something silver that belongs to somebody,” says Divola, whose work is the subject of three Southern California museum exhibitions this fall. “So then I came across this abandoned house and I said to myself, ‘That’s a place I can go and paint things.’” The photographer says he added pigment to portions of the structure and started shooting. “One thing then led to another and that evolved into the Vandalism series in 1974. I really just kind of backed into it.”
Now those images, along with shots from four decades of Divola’s work, are gathered in John Divola: As Far As I Could Get, three exhibitions on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and Pomona College Museum of Art. The title comes from a series of images Divola shot from 1996 to 2010 with a camera set on a 10-second timer. To create them, the photographer, who teaches at the University of California Riverside, ran straight into the frame he had established in the viewfinder for in each shot. The lines from the camera to Divola are a study in perspective that brings to mind the planes in Ed Ruscha’s gas stations. But here, as with Divola’s abandoned house shots, the photographer alters the natural landscape with his presence. The work looks simultaneously deliberate and random. It’s indicative of the constant sense of evolution and change in Divola’s work. As LACMA curator Britt Salvesen states on the exhibition wall, Divola’s art constantly straddles the border between reality and artifice.
The three shows include original prints of black and white images and Polaroids, and Divola has spent the past months reprinting the color shots and readying his newest series: Theodore Street (on view in the Santa Barbara show). These images—of an abandoned and vandalized house in the Moreno Valley—are taken with a camera set on a robotic base called a GigaPan that enables Divola to photograph a scene incrementally and stitch hundreds of exposures together into one shot. “I take anywhere from 60 to 100 photographs over about a ten to 15 minute time frame,” he says. The technology came from a team at Cornell University that worked on NASA’s Mars rover camera, and Divola is putting it to use to document the decay of a house situated here on planet Earth. “A lot of people have come into the house, which is clearly on the road to demolition, and painted. I’ve shot it over time and I’m usually in the image somewhere,” Divola says.
The three exhibitions came together organically and Divola says he tries not to look back at old work while he’s pursuing new ideas. “I’m not so interested in somebody trying to sum me up,” he says. “I hate those essays where people feel like they have to pinpoint some kind of definitive characteristic of the artist. It’s impossible and just ends up being boring. I’m more interested in what the curator is interested in; what catches the eye.” Examples of such selections are on display throughout Southern California this fall.
By Elizabeth Varnell
Pictured: John Divola, As Far As I Could Get (R02F09), 10 seconds, 1996-7. Pigment Print60 x 40 inches.
Image courtesy of John Divola