How many billboards?

Roadster Redux Construct

Mar 15 2010

James Welling’s billboard is a geometric abstraction of intersecting diagonals over a black ground. The diagonals are irregularly shaped—of varying thickness and angle—and their web-like surface area opens onto a ‘soft-focus’ pictorial space of saturated blue that blurs into navy, beige, and off-white passages. The colors’ intensity is amplified in contrast to the black. Though the image comes out of Welling’s materially oriented experiments with photograms, it is not particularly recognizable as being photographic and doesn’t contain the representational or indexical legibility that generally indicates ‘you are looking at a photograph’. In fact, especially on the scale of a billboard, its rectilinear boldness has as much in common with Constructivist-inspired graphic design and eye-catching advertising (Nike-esque, without the corporate brand/product) as anything. Design-wise, the image may be most intriguing for the way it combines strong geometric shapes and high-contrast that gives an overall hard-edge impression, with a slight softening of focus and fuzziness.

The intersecting diagonals appear to cross in a virtual perspectival space—an irregular tilted grid that I read as an abstraction of the city-plan, the overlaid urban infrastructure of major boulevards, smaller avenues, and ten-lane freeways with their offshoot ramps. That read is helped along by the billboard’s chance siting right at the entrance to the on-ramp of the 10 freeway on La Brea. Because of its fortuitous positioning, there is an especially wide range of viewing possibilities: drivers can view the billboard from several elevations (street level up to freeway overpass), perpendicularly driving south on La Brea, and across an extended parallel sweep from the 10. The changing experience of seeing the billboard from so many street positions colors the image pattern and invests it with suggestions of speed and travel.

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer

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