Born in Orange, New Jersey in 1937. Lives and works in Astoria, Oregon.
For the past forty years, Robert Adams black and white photographs have traced the human impact on the American landscape. The American West, the land of opportunity and Manifest Destiny, has been the subject of Adams’ oeuvre since the 1970s. He has captured on film the rise of suburbanization, the growth of the urban sprawl, the expansion of freeways and how these works of the human hand have gravely affected the landscape. Adams’ photographs juxtapose the beauty of light and form against the harsh realities of devastation. In Clear Creek Canyon, near Idaho Springs (1970-1972), we read the rolling landscape from a car barreling along the highway following signs that dictate the expanse.
Ant Farm was formed in San Francisco in 1968 and disbanded in 1978.
Ant Farm was a countercultural architecture, design and performance based collective founded by Chip Lord and Doug Michels in 1968 that was soon joined by two more members, Hudson Marquez and Curtis Schreierd. Ant Farm’s expanded practice aimed at gaining cultural introspection through happenings, architecture and interactive installations. Amarillo Art Center Poster (by Doug Michels; a reproduction of the original blueprint proposal sent to Stanley Marsh 3 in February 1974) (1981) and ‘Color Section Drawing by Chip Lord and Doug Michels of the Cadillac Ranch‘ (restoration by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels) (2002) both detail the iconic Cadillac Ranch installation that was made by Ant Farm in 1974 in a wheat field adjacent to the historic Route 66 in Amarillo, Texas. Ten used Cadillacs dating from 1949 to 1963 were half-buried nose-first in the ground at an angle mimicking the slant of the Great Pyramid at Giza. Part scrap yard, part Stone Henge, Cadillac Ranch is a monument to the Golden Age of the Automobile and the lurid hopes of the American Dream.
Born in 1937 in National City, California. Lives and works in Santa Monica, California.
With his deadpan sense of humor, John Baldessari juxtaposes language and imagery in confounding and witty ways. In The Back of All Trucks While Driving from L.A. to Santa Barbara, CA, Sunday, January 20, 1963, Baldessari documents exactly what the title states. The mundane reality of driving behind trucks on the freeway becomes an elaborate game seemingly conceived out of boredom. Like Ed Ruscha’s photographic series Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963), Baldessari strips away the glamour of the American Dream and reveals the dull and repetitive truth of the road.
Born in St Louis, Missouri in 1903. Died in Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1975.
Walker Evans was a legendary documentary photographer revered for his striking and earnest portraits of American society. Evans began to take photographs in 1928 and became recognized for his body of work documenting the Great Depression for the Farm Securities Administration in the 1930s in Alabama. These photographs were subsequently published in the seminal book, Let Us Know Praise Famous Men (1941). Like photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Henri Cartier-Bresson, Evans sought to translate the gritty reality of life through his lens. He looked to the changing faces of ordinary people and the everyday landscape as the narrative for his work. In Roadside Store Between Tuscaloosa and Greensboro, Alabama (1936), Evans shoots an iconic roadside attraction, a convenient store plastered in advertisements. Despite the Great Depression that engulfed the country, capitalism still resounded on the open road.
Born in 1939 in Amersfoot, the Netherlands. Lives and works in Los Angeles, California.
Robbert Flick has been capturing the psychological impact of culture on the American Landscape in his photographs since the 1960s. His large-scale black and white and color photographs are often printed in grids and evoke movement through the landscape. Much of his work systematically documents his journeys through the landscapes of Southern California from boulevards to freeway overpasses to row houses and ocean waves. The grid of black and white photos in California City #2 (Silver Saddle Ranch) (1981) is made up of images taken while traveling along a highway by California City, a desert oasis. Framed by the window of the car, the looming road, side view mirrors, billboards, occasional trees and the vast expanse flicker in and out of view giving the impression that the spectator is speeding along the lonesome highway.
Born in San Francisco in 1940. Lives and works in New York, NY.
Mary Heilmann’s paintings are vivid abstract planes that lend equally from the bold hues of her own imagination and the heavily saturated colors of popular culture. Heilmann’s work is both playful and sophisticated. She renders patterns and landscapes in luscious colors that juxtapose the two-dimensional and three-dimensional in a single frame. In Lost Highway (2008) and Vanishing Point (2008), the dashed white lines and black asphalt of the highway become part of these spatial compositions. Deceptively simple in their design and absorbingly complex in their texture and hue, these works interrupt the iconic simplicity of the highway with a dynamic vision.
Born in San Antonio, Texas in 1926. Died in Laguna Beach, CA in 1975.
Roger Kuntz was a landscape painter known for his spare, geometric meditations on the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. His well-known Freeways series from 1959 to 1962, focused on underpasses, tunnels, pedestrian walkways and signs. These simple compositions render the mundane into the poetic with their careful attention to shadow and light. Pasadena or East 66 (Sign series) (1962) and Santa Ana Arrows (Sign series) (1962) detail two highway signs. Kuntz focuses his attention in each canvas on moments where light dynamically blazes across the signs, casting strong shadows and increasing the intensity of the green hues. The signs are cropped, yet while remaining decipherable they drift into abstraction. What results is an ode to the utilitarian structures that one processes through habit but fails to truly notice as they soar by.
Born 1942 in Brooklyn, New York. Lives and works in the Chama Valley, New Mexico.
Danny Lyon is a self-taught photographer and filmmaker who started his career photographing the Civil Rights Movement in America. He is part of the ‘New Journalism’ movement that propounds that the artist should be wholly immersed in their subject. Lyon photographed American biker culture between 1964-1967, resulting in the renowned body of work, Bikeriders (1968). In Conversations with the Dead (1971) Lyon spent time documenting the lives of prisoners in Texas. Lyon’s black and white photographs are in-depth explorations of American culture that extend beyond the flash of the camera and become experience. Road to Madrid, New Mexico (1970) is a gritty and intimate portrait of a highway taken at ground level. The unusual perspective makes the highway look like an immense sea as the surrounding landscape recedes into the background. The image is a celebration of the lure of the open road, the freedom it represents and a testament to its seemingly infinite expanse.
Born in Sandusky, Ohio, 1961. Lives and works in Los Angeles, California.
Since the early 1990s, Catherine Opie’s photographs have provided an honest and probing investigation into American identity. From city skylines and glaciers, to LGBT communities and football players, Opie’s photographs provide both a personal and political look at the nation’s cultural landscape. Looking to forbears such as Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Dorothea Lange, Opie’s work continues in the lineage of social documentary but with a profound emphasis on community. Opie’s Freeway series (1994-1995) is a formal meditation on the iconic freeway maze, the jumble of concrete found in every city that facilitates car travel in America.
For more information on Catherine Opie, see her artist page.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1944. Lives and works in New York, New York and Los Angeles, California.
In the same lineage as artists such as John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha, language is one of Allen Ruppersberg’s main subjects. Untitled (City Limits) (1971) is a series of photographs from early in Ruppersberg’s career. Five black and white photographs of city limits signs in America gain meaning through the inclusion of a hand holding a magazine that punctuates the bottom of each image. The seemingly random signs become part of a surmised narrative through the human presence and the headlines of the magazines.
For more information on Allen Ruppersberg, see his artist page.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1937. Lives and works in Los Angeles, California.
Ed Ruscha’s practice manifests itself through painting, drawing, printmaking and photography as well as artists books tinged with deadpan humor. The gas station is a place of transience and necessity between the open road and more open road. The black and white photograph Standard- Amarillo, Texas (1962) depicts one of the twenty-six gas stations along Route 66 that Ruscha would document in his book Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963). In the screenprints Double Standard and Mocha Standard (1962), the gas station becomes a stylized icon. In 2009, he created his own edition of Jack Kerouac’s seminal Beat classic On the Road which features the original text illustrated by Ruscha’s photographs.
Born in 1947 in New York City. Lives and works in New York.
Walker Evans’ seminal book American Photographs inspired Stephen Shore to start taking photographs as a teenager. From 1973 to 1978, Shore engaged in a number of cross-country odysseys. Like Robert Frank’s The Americans (1955-1956), Shore’s subject was American life. His photographs taken on the road depict people, main streets, signs, highways and the errant landscape. Part of Shore’s practice was to document and photograph everywhere he ate, slept, fueled gas and stopped along the way. His photographs, writings and ephemera were translated into montages such July 3, 1973 (1973) and July 5, 1973 (1973). For the body of work Uncommon Places (1973-1978), Shore began shooting with an 8”x10” view camera on his trips across America and capturing easily overlooked places such as gas stations and parking lots, which are uncommon only for their banality.
Born in Los Angeles, California in 1949. Lives and works in Los Angeles.
Alexis Smith makes collages out of American detritus. She scours thrift stores, flea markets and swap meets in California for her raw materials, which she transforms into collaged tableaus. Her work evokes nostalgia for the golden age of Hollywood, diners and the open highway, as well as enacting a fetishistic critique of American society. In Route 66 (1988), Smith pairs found objects such as a map, travel pamphlets, an arrow sign that looked like it was pulled from a roadside dive and a silver spoon. Emblazoned across the map is a quote from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, that reads “We were hot; we were going east; we were excited.” The collage is imbued with the dynamism and thrill of a cross-country journey; Yet, Smith also sharply chastises the overindulgence of American culture, where the country is seen as an ice cream sundae that we could bite into with our silver spoons.
Born in Moscow, Russia in 1979. Lives and works in New York, New York.
The poles of freedom and incarceration are the subjects of Kon Trubkovich’s diptych Roads (2010) and For Ever (2010). Here Trubkovich paints enlarged images of two Texas license plates that together bare the freewheeling phrase “Roads 4 Ever.” While the words spell out freedom, this belies their origins. State prisoners locked away from the open road make license plates. These plates become symbols of liberation as they sail down the road on the back of someone’s truck, but they also stand as a cruel joke for the inmates who mint them from within prison walls.
Born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Died in New York, NY in 1987.
Andy Warhol’s 5 Deaths on Orange (Orange Disaster)(1968) reveals the grim reality of highway travel. A photograph of a car crash culled from a newspaper is screen printed in black ink and colored bright orange. A car flipped over with bodies crushed underneath; this gruesome image is solemn but innocuous like the daily newspaper headlines for a society immune to horror. The painting is a meditation on death and a danger sign for highway drivers that no one seems to heed as they speed on down the road. Warhol’s work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions, retrospectives, films, biographies and auction record sales.