John Divola

  • born 1949
  • Photographer
  • American

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.