"In John Divola's Photographs, an Elusive Presence," by Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times
John Divola is felt if not seen in his photographs, but now that he's the subject of a multi-part retrospective, he seems visible everywhere.
A woman watering her lawn can be slightly sexy, but a silver butane tank can change a man's life.
John Divola, a photographer in chase of the sublime, discerned this as a graduate student in a ponytail, peddling his bicycle and taking pictures of tract houses and women with hoses, snippets of suburbia in the morning light. It was the shine of a butane tank, however, that led him into an abandoned house with a can of silver paint and a new way, at least for him, of infusing the artist into his work.
He painted shapes on walls. Black and white spots followed. The images left the viewer wondering: Who did this? Why? The pictures linked the photographer with his subject as if the two were at work on a deft conspiracy. Divola's photography — he has a multipart retrospective running in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Claremont — leaves the impression that he is in or has just left the frame.
His photographs and conceptual art are organic to Southern California — beaches, deserts, cities, mountains, the tug of light and at times a desolation playing amid a land of endless reinvention where human bonds can be provisional and many define themselves through the parade of popular culture. Divola's work is a pause in the noise, an escape from the clamor.
He never expected to make a living from photography. What he was after, he said, was to tell himself on his deathbed that he'd found "something enriching ... a meaningful engagement" with the world. His tones and spatial dimensions instill a sadness, a longing to capture a beauty, whether a saltbox house at dusk or a black dog chasing a car, that to him remains evocatively elusive.
"I want [my photographs] to be seductive, but they're also about unattainable desire," he has said.