John Divola – Vandalism, 2018
Artist/Photographer: John Divola (born Los Angeles, resides Riverside, California) (USA)
Publisher: MACK (UK)
Without essays, pagination or captions
Hardcover book with embossed paper cover, sewn binding, four-color lithography, printed by EBS (Italy)
Photobook designer: Ben Seeley
Notes: This retrospective monograph that explores one of John Divola’s urban landscapeprojects created between 1974 and 1975 while finishing his MFA at UCLA (1974). His practice was a form of what today we would call “staged photography”; creating (spray painting) structures and staging events for the single purpose of being photographed, which a photographic print is the end product. For this series, the photographs were monochromatic black and white. Divola would later follow this series with Zuma Beach, in 1977, similar in staging, but photographed in color.
To place Divola’s body of work in perspective at this time in the early to mid-1970’s was the artistic practice of the Abstract Expressionist and Color Field artists; Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Adolph Gottlieb, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly and at UCLA, Richard Diebenkorn. The photographer Aaron Siskind was working on his “After Franz Kline” series starting in 1973 through 1975, photographing “found art” that were graphic black and white studies that channeled the similar graphic abstract paintings of Franz Kline.
Although this book does not contain any text that provides the context for this body of work, a minimalist book in its own right, I was fortunate to hear Divola’s Medium Festival presentation last October in San Diego during which he placed this project within his larger body of work. Essentially a twenty-something year old guy who was tagging the interior of some abandon structures with an informed artistic twist.
His painting style due to the use of spray paint cans is very loose versus something tighter that would result from use brushes and acrylic or oil paint. Like other Abstract Expressionist, the over-spray, heavy applications that might create run-off drips and lines, was a source of relatively uncontrolled serendipity. He selected a silver spray paint that had a kind of visual luminance when photographed that contrasted with the dense black spray paint applications.
His “canvas” or work medium was another element of serendipity; the structure and surface textures of the found walls varied and there maybe some pre-existing damage or structures to interact with. On occasion Divola introduced some sculptural elements, using nails, string and other objects to create lines and patterns to work with. Likewise, he introduced his flying books (or magazines) that after the painting work was completed, to then fling a book or magazine into the frame and attempt to capture its wild flight. An act in his attempt to explore dynamic serendipity as another element of chance in his staging; just to see what might happen.
Looking at his photographs I sense the current mood at the time (thinking back to the CalArts presentations); a desire to be anti-modernism and against everything of the grand West Coast landscape photography of Adams, Weston and others of the f/64 in which the framing of the subject was studied for every little element. The edges of Divola’s photographs have odd elements and the subjects are “unbalanced” compositions pushing a visual rawness as to celebrate entropy, havoc and messiness. To introduce “real life” into to an image in which things are not perfectly ordered, e.g. picture-perfect in the advertising age.