John Divola’s black and white photographic series, Vandalism, marks the discovery and definition of this theme that he would explore from 1973 until the end of that decade. After documenting bleak suburban exteriors and portraits around San Fernando Valley from 1971-‘73, Divola began breaking into interiors.
In dilapidated buildings, he marked walls, corners, floors, and ceilings with patches of spraypainted polka dots, streaks, circles, and triangles. This gestural and instinctive mark-making prove Divola’s presence is not so much an invasive or destructive one (as the title wryly labels itself) but instead, an appreciative and accommodating one that understands these lonely spaces to a paranormal degree. Rather than depicting vandalism as something happening to a space— like a tag or mural gaudily slapped on a wall for an artist’s own fulfillment or promotion— Divola shows it as an interactive process involving the space. His marks highlight rather than erase. His hand is quick—appropriately unrefined— and glowing with a purpose mysterious to us, but altogether suggestive of rituals, performances, and gatherings, cryptic spatial dialogues, and man’s empathy with the inanimate.
Countless works have been made featuring man’s artistic hand blending with that of nature. But few have acknowledged this potentially unwelcome “collaboration” with such sincerity and self-awareness. Both poles are represented— vandalism’s ugly stereotypes and thought-provoking innovations— resulting in both a personal depiction and blunt criticism of how we as humans perceive unauthorized works of public art in the midst of decay.
By Michael Porwoll