LA JOLLA, CA.- The Joseph Bellows Gallery
continues to reintroduce important Los Angeles photography of the 1970s with its exhibition of the black and white prints of Philip Melnick. This is the first solo show in Southern California in three decades for the artist, who was part of a pivotal generation of photographers working in L.A. at that time a list that includes artists such as Eileen Cowin, Judy Fiskin, John Divola and Steve Kahn.
Melnick, who grew up in Los Angeles, demonstrates a keen eye for the character of its vernacular architecture and the distinctive look of its streets in his seminal work: the quirky confluence of a single parked car with a street facing wall and a fragmented apartment building; the intersection of street, fence and another non-descript apartment house. He isolates the intricate pattern of a wall, creating arresting fusions of everyday sights and geometric abstraction.
He is drawn to the way the built environment and plant life converge curiously and sometimes jarringly. This same interest in the ways nature meets the built environment pervades pictures made in Twentynine Palms. Each depicts an expansive cloud filled sky hovering above a dwarfed built environment.
Approximately 50 images are featured in Melnicks first San Diego exhibition. These vintage prints display a remarkable clarity and have been the subject of considerable critical acclaim.
Melnicks images emphasize a push-pull, hard soft tension that give his pictures distinguished style and great beauty, wrote the late Fred McDarrah, who was himself a marvelous photographer for The Village Voice as well as a writer.
Photography critic and theorist James Hugunin, in a 1985 catalog, observed, Melnicks eye for space, light and geometry is complimented by his wit, a lighter element in his work that certainly distinguishes his interests in small seductions (as Melnick has referred to the details of the urban scene that fascinate him).
While in high school, Melnick was something of a photography prodigy, earning a Kodak National High School Photographic Award the same year as his major contemporary, Bruce Davidson. After graduation, he became a pivotal figure in the Los Angeles music world; he was a co-founder of the legendary folk music venue, the Ash Grove, which he helped to design and manage. During those years, Melnick also made memorable portraits of numerous musical luminaries including Odetta, Pete Seeger, and Lightning Hopkins.
He earned both his B.A. in Art and his M.F.A. in Pictorial Arts from the University of California Los Angeles, studying as a painter, printmaker and photographer. The major photographic artist, the late Robert Heinecken, was a mentor.
Melnick taught at the University of Southern California, also exhibiting frequently to critical acclaim before joining the faculty at Northern Illinois University in 1977. He retired as a Professor Emeritus in 2000 and has concentrated on his work as a photographer while residing in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Collections in which his work is represented include: the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris; the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts in Los Angeles; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the George Eastman House and Princeton University, The Art Museum.