In 1969, fine art photographer Robert von Sternberg curated an exhibition titled “Continuum” at the Downey Museum of Art that showcased the diversity of photographic work produced by artists working in Southern California. The current exhibition shares the same title because it traces the careers of the original participants in the Downey Museum show. Works from a younger generation of photographic artists are included with the purpose of amplifying the scope of the original exhibition.
The artistic intentions and art-making styles of the photographers in the exhibition run the gamut from the “New Topography” of Lewis Baltz, to the collage/montage creations of Robbert Flick and Robert Heinecken, to mixed media creations by Susan Rankaitis and Jo Ann Callis. The photographic medium predominates but in many instances it is seamlessly wed to other materials, such as paint or found objects, in composite presentation.
Von Sternberg is represented by iconic imagery from his career, notably Pop Art-infused pieces depicting a neon “Vacancy” motel sign and another depicting the “Arizona Motel.” A minimalistic nocturnal von Sternberg streetscape of “Malibu” reveals a wall and street bathed in sepia-golden light. These works have an affinity with those of both Baltz and Flick. Baltz is represented here by black and white signature works such as, among others, “Point Realty,” a stripped-down and emotionally neutral image depicting a slightly run-down Moderne house facade.
Flick is represented by a number of panoramic color montages of daytime urban streetscapes. For these composites, Flick shoots sequential pictures of a street and then stitches them together horizontally. In much of his work, Flick displays the interaction between cars and people within an industrial urban world. Other images foreground groups of people within those urban settings.
With complex visuals dealing with domestic life and interiors, Jo Ann Callis deftly controls and stages her individual images. The results have an aura that is at once both commonplace and quite strange. A stand of triple yellow satin constructions resembling lampshades is reassuringly familiar yet wordlessly dominates the stage of the image with an alien presence. Yellow dots overlay another photographic image with quiet yet surprising equanimity.
Mixed-media works by Rankaitis have an affinity with those of Callis in that they serve up combinations of materials and imagery that tantalizingly verge on the cusp of abstraction. Similarly, the “Cavendish Floral Bud” or dead “Apple Cactus” flower color photographs by Jane O’Neal are forthright reports on natural objects, gorgeous renditions that manage to convey an otherworldly figuration in their labial folds.
Todd Walker’s studies of the human figure are invested with a solarized poster effect that lends them a luminous glow. Here is photo-optical imaging technology exerting a level of tremendous subtlety that seems digital in nature. Anthony Friedkin’s black and white photographs contrive abstract designs from the world of nature. A lushly printed work depicting the crest of a wave, for example, achieves a strikingly abstract horizontality despite originating in the world of nature.
The “camera-less” work of Heinecken will be familiar to students of Southern California art, as will the photographic inventions of Jerry McMillan. Both Heinecken and McMillan explore the nature of the photographic image as a physical object. Eileen Cowin’s work is more narrative in nature so as to expose her preoccupations with memory and the operations of chance.
This exhibit is a fine opportunity to get a “crash course” in Southern California fine art photography in one stop. This imagery is not about referencing depictions of the Southland directly. The display is certainly a sound representation of the photographic invention that has been taking place here over the last 40 years.
Published courtesy of ArtScene ©2010