(b. 1949, Santa Monica, CA. Lives and works Riverside, CA)
In these two photographs, John Divola stages a collision between the romantic sublime and the gritty specific. During the Covid-19 quarantine (and before), the artist made photographs in abandoned housing at George Air Force Base, a closed military airport in California’s high desert. In this case, he downloaded and printed blurred versions of paintings from nineteenth century Romanticism. He posted them in semi-destroyed structures and used his camera—“an indiscriminate collator,” he calls it—to capture the contrast of the iconic and the particular, idealized nature and the decaying works of man.
One of the paintings, the vertical image with a hazy standing figure at center, is regarded as a masterpiece of Romanticism. It is 1818’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, the German Romantic landscape painter (1774–1840). The painting glorifies the natural world, nature as epitomizing the metaphysical sublime. And it employs the “Rückenfigur”—a person seen from behind, contemplating the view. Behind the Rückenfigur, of course, is Divola: the viewer of the viewer of the view. The topic is exceptionally appropriate during the Covid-19 pandemic—a worldwide example of nature versus man.