Los Angeles

Robert Blanchon

Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies/Marc Foxx

Rosalind Krauss once noted that the sea is a special medium for Modernism because of its isolation, self-sufficiency, and detachment from the social; it promises a limitless visual plenitude, yet is characterized by an insistent sameness. Robert Blanchon has recently photographed the sea as one of three interrelated series that were on view at the Marc Foxx gallery: “Wave (0-9),” “Tree (0-9),” and “Rock (0-9)” (all 1996). Consisting of ten identically presented photographs of individual waves, trees, and rocks, each series seeks to create a tension between a transcendent vision of Modernism and a vision rooted in corporeality. Blanchon abstracted his subjects from nature, most evidently in the ways in which he chose the color of the frames first and then processed the prints to match. The blue monochrome of the wave series evokes the seamless field of post-painterly abstraction, even as it suggests the color of a chlorinated pool. To create these images, Blanchon waded into the ocean trying, and of course failing, to photograph identical waves. This work is animated by a productive tension between an encyclopedic logic—the attempt to get to the essence of something by cataloguing it—and a form of nominalism: the difference between the fragile individuality of each object photographed and the pressure of seriality.

This search for essences and its collapse into the particular has characterized Blanchon’s work over the last few years, as demonstrated in the recent survey at LACPS. His Untitled (Death Valley Self-Portrait), 1995, is a diptych whose top half is a view through a windshield of a small roadside section of desert, the highway immediately in front of the car, and the huge western sky. Several blotches on this bluish-toned landscape at first appear to be scratches from the photo’s negative, but on closer inspection, it turns out they are dead bugs, squashed into the grainy dirt coating the windshield. The lower photograph presents Blanchon standing naked, eyes closed, in the desert; alone in the most inhospitable of Edens, he is pulled insistently back to earth by such bodily markers as dyed-blond hair and the tattoos on his arms. Untitled (Death Valley Walking), 1996, is an eight-part piece in which the artist proceeded to walk into the desert until all that was visible of him was the impression of his hair, toned through photo processing to match the blue of the sky at the horizon, standing out from its surroundings like neighboring patches in an Ad Reinhardt painting.

The work at Marc Foxx continued this investigation, but here process seemed, at first, to substitute for the artist’s presence. “Tree (0-9),” numbered to imply a restricted sense of infinity, was the beginning of this exploration. In a manner similar to the waves, each gelatin-silver print presented a roughly six-by-six-inch image of a cypress tree in Los Angeles at dawn, presented in a frame some ten inches square, coated with brushed silver leaf. Toying with the ideals of the perfect photographic moment, the series contains an image in which the geometric symmetry of a cypress is framed beautifully and precisely against a crystalline sky, sandwiched between photos of misshapen or unevenly pruned trees. Moreover, since cypresses are almost always planted in rows, the image of these trees standing awkwardly on their own creates a charged, anxious reference to the singularity of the body and notions of the self. The serial aspect of Blanchon’s work poses questions about mirroring and difference, but the artist is most interested in asking whether the knowledge that no two objects are identical “help[s] you understand where you’ve been and where you’re going.” In other words, Blanchon’s body is the insistent absence that is itself structured, even as it structures the waves, trees, and rocks that we see.

Andrew Perchuk