Memorable Visions," Artweek, Volume 10, Number 28,
 September 8, 1979

Berkeley, Joan Murray

Although it's probably somewhat irrelevant, as I
first viewed recent work by Jo Ann Callis and John
Divola at the University Art Museum I was struck by
the thought that both artists have degrees from UCLA
and both are former students of Robert Heinecken.
The combination of a good teacher and talented
students does not necessarily result in work that
resembles the teacher's. To the contrary, the rare,
great teacher inspires and encourages each student's
talents, free from any specific reference to or
influence of the teacher's work.

Callis and Divola are two of the most provocative
contemporary talents in photography. Their work
shows no reference to their school affiliation or
former teacher, or to each other. While they both
work in color, their use of color is dissimilar in both
technique and effect.

Divola's color photographs are, for me, the most
exciting color work being seen today--and this is not
to negate positive reviews of work by other artists. Of
all the current crop of photographers working in
color, however, Divola has the most complete control
and the most previsualized results.

Setting for Divola's images is the interior of an
abandoned house on Zuma Beach, Malibu, which
overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Over a period from
September 1977, to February 1978, the interior of
the house became increasingly more destroyed from,
among other causes, the ravages of fire, which
charred walls and woodwork. Using the Pacific
Ocean, as seen through windows and doorways of the
house, for color reference, Divola applied large,
similarly shaped paint marks on the house walls,
which correspond in tone and mood to the ocean. Clear
Blue paint used inside the house picks up the
blue ocean on a clear day. From the later, charred and
blackened room, one sees the Pacific at sunset, black
and threatening. Divola add red paint to the jagged
pieces of broken glass in a window, which comple-
ments the flaming red of the sunset beyond. Each
image is different, yet the ocean remains a constant
element. This motif, seen against the human destruc-
tion within the house, is both dynamic and awesome.

Divola's images have the appearance of theater
pieces, as the setting for a major performance. In
some works he includes the debris left by trespassers,
suggesting that life has recently been there and that
human actors may indeed return to the room.
There is no suggestion of chance in Divola's work.
He has watched the changing colors of the sky and
the ocean, and to the interior of the house has added
color, which will result in exact depiction of the mood
he wants to attain. Light becomes substance in a
number of images, reflected off broken glass or
another surface, and seemingly reflected again by a
swirl of silver paint dabbed on a darkened Wall.
These are not images that easily lend themselves to
verbal description. Like a masterful stage setting, the
light and color and the statement made by the ocean
seen against man's waste have to be experienced. No
other photographer working in color has shown as
complete control of the medium to express his intent
, as does Divola.

For some time, Callis has seemed a young force in
photography with which to reckon.  Her enigmatic
black and white imagery has provoked considerable
interest. She has now turned to large format, color
photographs of posed situations that appear to have
been designed to be forbidding and intriguing at the
same time. The problem I find with some of the
current work is that the situations seem too forced.
The viewer is made too conscious of the setup, even of
the strain on the person involved in the images.
Woman With Blue Bow, for example, shows the
upper part of a woman's torso. Her head is bent back
at such an angle that her back must be arched upward
like that of an acrobat. The posture evokes nothing
from me except curiosity about the model's apparent
discomfort -- and an acute awareness that I am
looking up the subject's nostrils!

Some of the seemingly less forced, less tricky
situations work the best. An extremely strong image,
Man With Tie, pictures only the shadowed face of a
man: If the title did not designate "man," it would be
an asexual image. Man ln Red Chair combine simple
elements -- the partially seen male figure in a brilliant
red chair, a discarded napkin, a used food
tray on the floor. It is a scene caught out of the corner
of your eye, something you've seen in passing. It is
this sense of identification that makes many of Callis
images very effective. You're not quite sure what you
are seeing; you're just aware of the sense of
familiarity, not necessarily pleasant or unpleasant.
When Callis' situations are obvious and forced, the
impact is lost. Girl On Bed shows a teenager with
light falling on her pubic area. A similar image,
Woman In Pink Slip, depicts a woman shining a
flashlight on the inside of her thigh. In Woman In A
Halter the model wears a leather halter. There seems
to be a hint of smeared lipstick. The identification
here is with Helmut Newton's "white" or "sleep-
less" women!

The overall impression from Callis' show is the
compelling sense that she has a potentially strong
body of work, which is in progress, but needs editing.
There are images that will remain with the viewer,
ones that are curiously demanding and seductive,
unexplainable as a known experience. Perhaps the
best example of this is a photograph of a woman's
back, her hair pulled up to expose the long line of her
neck. A black line has been drawn from the top of the
head down the center of the neck and back. The image
is simple, direct, uncomplicated -- part of no
remembered experience, and eerily hypnotizing.
Many of these same images by Callis will appear in
the September show, Nine Conternporary Photog-
raphers, at the Witkin Gallery in New York. This
introductory exhibit of work by nine' contemporary
photographers also includes two other Californians,
Lou Digiulio and Barbara Kasten.