Ted VanCleave        Sculpture  .   Painting  .  Photography

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Eyemazing Magazine

Ted VanCleave

Ted VanCleave’s abstract, architectural photographs of Los Angeles depict a fantastical, futuristic vision of urban landscape. Forceful lines and curves of cement soar across skies saturated with expressionistic colors. The vertiginous angles, blocks of solid color, and disorienting geometry create a picture space wherein solid forms become pure abstraction. Only an occasional reference to the surrounding environment or the colors of the natural world remind us that this is Los Angeles, a real place, as reinterpreted by VanCleave’s painterly vision.

It is not surprising that VanCleave’s background is in painting. He has worked extensively with various mediums of paint as well as pastels and mixed media. His affinity for bold color combining attests to his years of experience working as an abstract painter. VanCleave uses photography to selectively capture certain visual facts that he then transforms according to his mind’s eye. Though Los Angles is well known for its sun-drenched light and the magical colors of Technicolor Hollywood, VanCleave depicts the city with a palette uniquely his own. He uses an adventurous range of color to successfully make orange skies and bright red skyscrapers seem a natural phenomenon within the context of his overall vision.

VanCleave moved from painting to photography because of the ease with which he could record visual elements from the outside world. Photography is a natural extension of his vision across a different medium, a rendering tool that allows him to quickly pull information from his environment into a form that he can then manipulate and expand into something almost entirely removed from its original source. VanCleave has not painted since making the transition to photography, and now creates are almost exclusively with his camera. Structure: The Los Angles Series is an ongoing project that he has been working on for the past year.

VanCleave has a complex relationship with Los Angeles: he feels both positive and negative emotions for the city. He grew up in rural Indiana and later lived in San Francisco. He moved to Los Angeles five years ago and says he did not have an immediate affinity for the city. “When I arrived in the Los Angeles I missed the beauty of San Francisco and only saw the endless ugly strip malls and boring houses that make up a large part of Los Angeles. Gradually I decided to seek out the allure of Los Angeles and started taking notice of its hidden architectural gems.” His work does not unconditionally glorify Los Angles but instead uses images of the city as a template upon which he builds his own vision of urban beauty.

While VanCleave’s interpretive vision of Los Angeles is its own artistic fiction, the familiar qualities of Los Angles are undeniably present in this series. The modernist architecture, the 50s and 60s elements of design, and a certain soulless chill despite the sunshine, are all qualities for which Los Angeles is well known. As VanCleave remarks “It feels like a city of isolation, where you have to drive everywhere and no one walks more than two blocks at a stretch. It is the world’s largest suburb.”

Noticeably absent from the series is any reference to a person or human form. As a result the buildings and monumental forms appear much grander than human scale. VanCleave emphasizes this disparity of scale with extreme perspectives and dizzying angles. Some forms seem too heavy to be floating across the sky, too powerful to have been created by man, and too strange to be functional. The buildings take on a life of their own, like lumbering dinosaurs of technology, suggesting that the urban environment that man has created may someday consume him. Any hints of the natural world are dwarfed by their sheer mass; diminutive trees and patches of sky recede in both perspective and importance. What sky we can see, peeking though constrained passages as a reminder of earth and atmosphere, has been transformed from its natural blue to a range of artificially manipulated colors.

The lack of a human reference point also lends itself to anthropomorphic readings of the abstracted buildings. Certain structures take on personality traits, seeming to suggest emotions, and even resemble parts of the human body. Configurations of walls, archways, and flyovers can be interpreted as folded angles of the human torso. Some buildings seem to speak out through enigmatic bits of crumbling text. Others confront sinewy rows of California palm trees with a threatening stance. Detached forms loom and arch through a futuristic-retro ghost town illuminated by a post-apocalyptic range of surreal colors.

VanCleave does not consider himself an architectural photographer. His goal is to find forms that inspire him, that can provide the lines and mass he uses to spin off into abstraction. He does not aim to portray the buildings at their finest, or to document them in a realistic fashion. While he borrows the physical facts from architecture for the structure in his photographs, many of the buildings in his photographs would be unrecognizable to residents of Los Angeles.

Structure: The Los Angeles Series is not a documentary study of Los Angeles’ architecture, but it is surely a vision of the city made by an artist who has searched deeply for its visual essence. Perhaps this is the same backdrop that, over 60 years ago, inspired author Ayn Rand to choose architecture as the theme for her novel The Fountainhead. An immigrant from Russia, Rand developed her vision of heroic individualism amidst the modernist environs of Los Angeles. In a similar way Ted VanCleave, who also arrived with the eyes of an outsider, has a take on the city and architecture of Los Angeles that reflects both a personal outlook and the cultural climate of his era.

Text by Heather Snider

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All Images & Text Copyright . Ted VanCleave . 2017







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