Nocturnes

merrell4[Image: Screen grab from Nocturnes].

Filmmaker Alec Earnest—who we last saw here for his short film about the death of a mysterious map collector in Los Angeles—is back with a mini-documentary about landscape painter Eric Merrell.

Merrell, we read, “might be best known for his rigorous approach to landscape painting. For several years Merrell has been working on Nocturnes, a series of abstract desert works that he has painted all over Southern California, each solely by the light of the moon.”

merrell6[Image: Screen grab from Nocturnes].

Earnest’s film follows Merrell into Joshua Tree National Park, “where night falls and the desert takes on a surreal and mysterious beauty, where edges blur and shapes transform, and solitude takes on a whole new meaning.”

The small crew used a new Sony A7S camera “that basically allowed us to shoot completely in the dark,” Earnest explained to me over email.

The film is embedded, below:

Of course, as the video makes clear, this is a slight—but only slight—exaggeration, in that Merrell uses a headlamp and small clip lights on his painting box to help illuminate the scene.

merrell11merrell2[Image: Screen grab from Nocturnes].

When those lights are switched off, however, the landscape takes on a silvered, almost semi-metallic lunar glow, as if bathed in ambient light.

merrell8merrell7[Image: Screen grab from Nocturnes].

Standing there in the darkness, Merrell comments on how working at night also comes with a peculiar kind of audio enhancement, with distant sounds riding the breeze with a peculiar clarity; and at one point a fortuitous lightning storm rolls by in the distance, as if to prove Merrell’s point with the atmospheric sonar of a thunder crash echoing over the otherworldly rocks of the National Park.

merrell12merrell13[Images: Paintings by Eric Merrell; screen grabs from Nocturnes].

Read a bit more at the L.A. Review of Books, and don’t miss Earnest’s earlier film here on BLDGBLOG.

(Related: In Search of Darkness: An Interview with Paul Bogard).

Striper

Speaking of the accidental artistry of colorful street markings, artist Simon Rouby became fascinated by the ongoing painting and repainting of traffic lines on the freeways and streets of Los Angeles, like some vast and unacknowledged readymade art project.

[Images: Photos by Simon Rouby for “Yellow Line“].

Could this huge urban painting apparatus be temporarily repurposed, Rouby wondered—leading him to contact Caltrans directly and embark upon a project with the rather straightforward name of “Yellow Line.”

That project, Rouby explains, introduced him “to the California Transportation ‘Striping Crew.’ I followed them while they poured miles of yellow paint onto the concrete of Los Angeles. With them I got to know the biggest and most congested network of freeways in the United States, and built my understanding of Los Angeles, a gigantic city where people meet everyday, but at 60 miles per hour on the freeways. Millions of cars per day, from which 75% drive alone, despite traffic and smog.”

“We also did canvases,” Rouby adds, “painted directly with their trucks.”

[Image: From “Yellow Line” by Simon Rouby].

Nonetheless, it’s not those canvases but the project’s most basic conceptual move—putting the Caltrans striping crews into the same context as, say, Jackson Pollack or Marcel Duchamp—that interests me the most here, implying new possibilities for interpretation, even whole new futures for art history and landscape criticism, with this recognition of avant-garde projects going on disguised as the everyday environment.

[Image: From “Yellow Line” by Simon Rouby].

Pushing this further, the transportation system itself becomes an earthworks project that dwarfs the—by contrast—embarrassingly unambitious Michael Heizer or Robert Smithson, revealing Caltrans, not Field Operations or any other white-collar design firm, as one of the most high-stakes landscape practitioners—a parallel civilization of mound builders hidden in plain sight—at work in the world today.

In any case, Simon Rouby’s “Yellow Line” is on display at the Caltrans District 7 Building—100 South Main Street, Los Angeles—until 28 September 2012.