Jeffrey Fleishman of the LA Times Reviews John Divola's "As Far as I Could Get"

"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.