J. John Priola



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Priola and Masullo at Anglim

Kenneth Baker

Saturday, September 20, 2023

Priola and Masullo at Anglim: J. John Priola shows a new series of black-and-white pictures at Gallery Paule Anglim that continue his survey of undernoticed details of domestic architecture. This time he has turned his attention to vent grates in house foundations and the "weep holes" in retaining walls that permit drainage.

As in "Hillhurst Avenue" (2007), he offers these tiny architectural epiphanies, in a plainspoken manner, in big prints with wall, aperture, sidewalk and perhaps a fringe of vegetation forming a nearly depthless, nearly abstract pattern.

A series of postcard-size prints examines single weeds obtruding, one or two at a time, between wall and sidewalk.

Priola poises these images on the border between documentary and conceptual art. They seem to equate the insufficient attention people give to details of the world and the insufficient attention they give to photographs. Such an equation would risk insulting the viewer, did Priola not effect it so discreetly that it too may pass unnoticed.

Priola also quietly revives what Vancouver, British Columbia, photographer Roy Arden calls "the romance of the index" - the excitement of believing, in the Photoshop age, that the phenomenon before the lens left its own photo-chemical imprint.

Small works by San Francisco painter Andrew Masullo - the only kind he makes - keep surprisingly good company with Priola's photographs. Perhaps the modesty of Masullo's pictures explains this, perhaps their interest in the distinctness of each moment of observation does.

Without making any big claims for themselves, each of Masullo's abstract paintings seems to want to be the sort of unique particle of reality that Priola singles out with his camera.

The piece "4506" (2005-06) might suggest clouds tattering to reveal bits of bright sky, except that the clouds are a sap green and the background colors pink, blue, red and yellow.

It looks like nothing else in his show. Masullo appears less interested in the power of any individual picture than in the jump in energy that occurs as his style, even his sensibility, seems to change from one painting to the next. Only Thomas Nozkowski, a slightly older contemporary, comes to mind as Masullo's peer in this regard.

Outside the Window, a Watcher in the Dark

SFGate, Saturday, May 31, 2023

Kenneth Baker

Does all photography have snooping as a subtext?

All kinds of pictures support that idea, from images that capture things too fast, small or distant for the naked eye, to straightforward but stealthy ones such as J. John Priola's series "Dwell" at Gallery Paule Anglim. Each of Priola's black and whites looks from deep blackness into the lighted window of someone's residence.

His titles identify locations but give no clue whether he collaborated with the people whose dwellings he captured. The faintly invasive feeling the pictures emanate suggests, correctly, that he did not.

The almost abstract formal elegance of Priola's pictures offsets their creepy air of belonging to a stalker's album. Yet their formality also reminds us of the time they involved and Priola's risk of discovery in setting up his 4-by-5 camera.

"Dolores Street, Ground Floor South" (2001) reveals almost nothing of the domestic interior beyond. The nearly opaque curtain flattens the arched window into a tombstone shape. A hazy shadow pattern makes it hard to tell whether the view looks from outer blackness into a lighted window or out from a dark room at muffled light.

E-mail Kenneth Baker at [email protected]

©2006 San Francisco Chronicle

J. John Priola - Farm Sites and Other Works

Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco

May 4-28, 2005

Reviewed by Prajakti Jayavant

J. John Priola's exhibition "Farm Sites and Other Works" consists of gelatin-silver prints and a video projection. This series has been an ongoing project since 1999, recording Priola's visits to farm sites in the U.S.A. Each work is photographed and printed by the artist himself. These decisions impact the enigmatic quality of Priola's work.

At first glance, there doesn't seem to be anything special about the places depicted in the series including Tower Road and Road 17. They don't hold a prominent place on the map, nor are they noted historical sites. But soon, I am gracefully pulled in and wound around to experience scratching bark and feathered blades of grass. Fields raked as path draw me towards dilapidated trees and an immediate spatial lightness.

Although the sky holds much of the dominant space, I find myself with stretched out eyes, sinking into the darks and focusing on the slightly trampled emptiness of the space within the trees. The softness of the play of light and dark gently leads to a curious inquiry about this non-arbitrariness of place; to that which could have been erased, abandoned, or imagined. I become conscious of a lingering man-made presence coexisting with the continuance of nature in this specific place. The trees are the remaining protective family. Fallen limbs have a history. Glimpses of this can be seen in the holes they leave and in the shelter that they once provided. Their organic indentations lightly outline the mysterious space within. Dirt is sunken from a lost weight. The emptiness provokes thoughts of shelter and occurrence. At once, the open sky is full.

The landscape has been both condensed and expanded due to the tampering with dimension and scale in Princeton (1999), J. John Priola, gelatin silver photograph, 22-3/4" x 35-3/4" the photographs. The chosen peculiarity of Priola's cropping technique leaves me feeling as though my feet are soaking wet in the swamp pictured. With mud dampened toes, I am somehow a part of the scene without being seen. In actuality, I'm really not in close enough proximity to be having this experience. But I am having it. Light douses the ground in resemblance of snow or dirt. I can't tell what the climate is. The sky is clear. Trees are both dead and thriving. The farm site is barren and yet alive with simple and sparing oddity. A grouping of smaller gelatin-silver prints, including Two Weather Stations, could be mistaken for ink drawings because of their stark white and black contrast. The quirky little protrusions of landscape look as though they could have been made by the travels of a wayward brush. Whereas slight electrical lines may have marked the horizon in the larger photographs, here, a drastically elevated horizon line compresses the whiteness. The negative and positive spaces exist with equal importance. The once vast landscape has been whittled and simplified.

A projection of the Empire State Building, a bustling tourist attraction, rests in relative stillness on the top of the building. Yet my eyes are drawn downwards by windows and upwards in pursuit of spires. Sparkling light blinks out horizontally as clouds lazily drift along. This piece enforces the notion of seeing as an active experience. J. John Priola presents contemplative places that could easily have gone unnoticed. These places, imbued with hints of existence and nonexistence, become increasingly mysterious. The play of contradictions, both aesthetically and conceptually, provides evidence for the role of the viewer, photographer, and the site itself. The stereotypical is transformed.

Prajakti Jayavant © 2005

Prajakti Jayavant is an artist and writer who lives and works in San Francisco. www.stretcher.org


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