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Outside the limits of Los Angeles, photographer John Divola introduces us to captivating standalone dwellings while leaving us to wonder who created them. In Isolated Houses, Divola shows us that the power of photography often isn’t in what is shown in the image, but what is withheld from view.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, Divola, a California native, set out on regular trips to the outer limits of LA and into the desert. It was there that he found and photographed small homes that suggest the presence of people who seek solitude.
Divola titles these pictures simply with their geographic coordinates, turning the images into both documents of his findings and a form land survey. Within this framework, he draws deeply from the old traditions of landscape photography in the American West. In Isolated Houses, rather than document the natural land, Divola provides evidence of those who have chosen to embrace remoteness in modern society.
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N34°09.974’ W115°48.890’, 1995-1998
N34°09.967’ W115°46.891’, 1995-1998
N34°13.275’ W116°10.883’, 1995-1998
N34°08.199’ W 115°55.170’, 1995-1998
Divola is an American contemporary visual artist. He currently lives and works in Riverside, CA. Divola works in photography, describing himself as exploring the landscape by looking for the edge between the abstract and the specific.
Since 1975, Divola’s work has been featured in more than eighty solo exhibitions in the United States, Japan, Europe, Mexico, and Australia, including Galerie Marquardt, Paris, 1990; Laura Bartlett Gallery, London 2012: Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2013; Wallspace Gallery New York, 2014.
Although the physical subjects that John Divola photographs range from buildings to landscapes to objects in the studio, his concerns are conceptual: they challenge the boundaries between fiction and reality, as well as the limitations of art to describe life. John Divola is from Southern California, and his imagery often reflects that locale by including urban Los Angeles or the nearby ocean, mountains, and desert.
Divola grew up in the San Fernando Valley, which he credits as having an impact on his development as an artist. He earned a BA from California State University, Northridge in 1971 and an MA from University of California, Los Angeles in 1973. In college, the new art movements that inspired him-Minimalism, Conceptualism, and Earthworks-were often not easily accessible, but encountered through photographic documentation. “I came to the conclusion that [photography] was the primary arena of contemporary art,” Divola has said, “and that all painting and sculpture and performance was, from a practical point of view, made to be photographed, to be re-contextualized, and talked or written about.” After earning an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1974, Divola developed his own combination of performance art, sculpture, and installation, with photography at its conceptual core.
One of Divola’s earliest projects, Zuma (1979), brought him critical acclaim. Zuma is a photographic record made over time of a beachfront property that was being used intermittently by the fire department for fire-fighting practice. As Divola observed the building over the course of two years, it was ravaged by fire, vandalism, and the artist’s own graffiti. These acts of human “intervention,” as he saw them, became integrated with the inevitable natural processes of decay. Isolated Houses, Divola’s vivid color photographs of one-room dwellings in the desert area around Twentynine Palms, California, emerged out of his longstanding interest in the Southern California landscape. At the center of each square image is a square house-sometimes shown close up, other times, at a distance. The physical relationship between each man-made structure and its immediate surroundings blur visual distinctions between what is natural and what is artificial. Another recent project is Dogs Chasing My Car in the Desert (2004). Divola lives in Riverside, California and teaches at the University of California.
His work has been included in more than two hundred group exhibitions in the United States, Europe, and Japan, including: “Mirrors and Windows,” The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, 1978; “1981 Biennial Exhibition,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York. 1981; “Photo Binennale, Enschede (Obsessions. From Wunderkammer to Cyberspace),” Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enchede, Netherlands. 1995 “Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity 1900-2000, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, , 2000; “Architecture Hot and Cold,” The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2000, and “Los Angeles 1955-85,” Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2006:; “Under the Big Black Sun,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angles, Ca., 2012, “Images Moving Out Onto Space,” Tate St. Ives, UK, 2015.
Press + Articles
The Mysterious House That Inspired an L.A. Artist’s New Show
The New York Times (article)