Philip Hall takes photographs of classic cars. Or, at least, at first glance that’s what the observer might assume. However, on closer look, it becomes clear that while the classic (and sometimes not so classic) car is his predominant subject, it isn’t the only subject. In fact, what Hall does is use the classic car as a vehicle (pun intended) to convey concepts of contemporary art and photography.
Hall, a four-year Cuenca expat from San Francisco, is putting those concepts on display in a photo exhibition entitled ArteMovil which opens Thursday, April 7 at 7 p.m. at the Saladentro Gallery on Paseo 3 de Noviembre 4-78 y Bajada Todos Santos, just east of the Broken Bridge. The exhibit continues through April 30. In addition to his photography, Hall also plans a display of real classic cars on Saturday, April 16 under the Broken Bridge.
Hall’s photographs range from the highly abstract such as “Turquoise Tail Light,” and “Tail of Tales 2,” both of which are color field studies, to the highly narrative which include “God” (an ode to the classic car), and “The Final View of Isadora Duncan.” In other works, the car is dissected, so that the series which features the disembodied hood ornaments feels like homage to ancient Greek statuary. In this case the parts really are greater than the sum.
Hall graduated from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Southern California and has developed a mastery of contemporary art concepts and an appreciation of art criticism His images are enhanced with visual quotes from contemporary art — the most obvious in this exhibition is the reference to Ed Kienholz’ sculpture “38 Back Seat Dodge”, although Hall has reduced the original coupling to a single and rather insouciant woman. This nod in the direction of popular culture is also evidenced in Hall’s group shots of figures attending car races or gathering.
Hall’s viewpoint captures the crowd outside a waffle shop, they are looking more at each other than at the cars, and the scene is reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell tableau. Hall takes his kitsch seriously, just as he seriously mines the intellectual components of classic Americana.
Hall has photographed enough classic car shows to know a good fetish when he sees one. Like their chromed and polished counterparts, the women who accompany the cars and decorate the events in his photos are as highly detailed and elegantly upholstered as any automobile. What differentiates Hall’s images of these women is his attention to detail and placement of the figure within a larger narrative. One image, in particular, features a woman (beautiful in a delicate but ordinary way) with her arms stretched out to their full extent across the hood of a vehicle. Either crucified or preparing for flight, the ambiguity of this lovely creature stretches beyond the association with stylized car culture.
Hall transforms an audience’s preconceived notion of the type of work they expect to see by turning it on its head and requiring the audience to address purely formal, abstract and narrative issues. The images are meticulously rendered as Hall swaps out and manipulates every inch of the original photographs. The photographs are, in essence, paintings and their painterly history is announced by their comprehensive understanding of art history.
Says Hall of the upcoming exhibition: “It took me a while to put together this showing. In the United States, I have shown my artwork in over 100 exhibitions. It took me a while to find the right gallery in Cuenca. The exhibit will display 31 large format prints on archival water color paper, canvas and images heat fused into aluminum. What is new for me is showing over 150 images on large high resolution digital picture frames that I wrote the software for. It took a lot of experimentation with the images and monitors to get the images just right.”