Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art

Pepperdine University Center for the Arts

Malibu, CA



John Register: A Retrospective


The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu will present John Register: A Retrospective from January 8 through April 2, 2000. Works will be on view in the museum's Gregg G. Juarez Gallery, West Gallery, and Mezzanine Gallery.

Over the last two decades, John Register (1939-1996) has come to be regarded as one of the most distinctive realist painters of his generation. John Register: A Retrospective, a major survey of his work on a two-year national tour, was organized by the San Jose Museum of Art and premiered there last January. [See images from this touring exhibition in our stories "John Register: A Retrospective" at the Frye Art Museum (6/8/99) and "John Register: A Retrospective" at the Palm Springs Desert Museum (9/7/99)]

Comprised of approximately 55 superlative works completed between 1973 and 1996, the exhibition showcases the recurring, hauntingly seductive imagery that characterizes John Register's paintings--stark interiors of diners, waiting rooms and bus depots, empty chairs in old hotel lobbies, and vacant, mundane offices, the environs of Los Angeles and the desert landscape, New York and the urban streetscape, and suburban settings. The human figure is a rarity in the artist's pictures. (left: Pacific Rim Restaurant, 1989, oil on canvas, 50 x 70 inches, Collection of Winston Stuart Conrad, courtesy of San Jose Museum of Art, photo by Modernism, San Francisco)

Above all else, Register's paintings--permeated with a pristine quality of light and rich colors--reveal an artist who recognized with an unerring eye the existential essence of scenes from everyday life. Often compared with Edward Hopper, Register commented, "With Hopper you witness someone else's isolation; in my pictures, I think you, the viewer, become the isolated one."

Register was 33 when he quit his job as an art director at a high-powered New York advertising agency and decided to become a painter. Early in his new career he was influenced by the still-active photo-realist artists Richard Estes and Ralph Goings. However, unlike these painters, Register used photographs merely as a starting point for his work. In the late '70s, Los Angeles Times art critic Henry Seldis wrote in a review that Register was "an extraordinary painter whose external realism is based on metaphysical and psychological concepts along with a highly persuasive manner of painting."

Based in Los Angeles, Register created finely-executed realist paintings documenting the contemporary American scene which both fascinated and appalled him. He said his subject matter personified "something we experience universally, a kind of common denominator of interior space...."

His use of his own photographs as a source of imagery and composition for his paintings allowed him to evoke the essence of ordinary objects and anonymous places he visited on long car and train trips he took throughout the country for most of his life. His compositions were often derived from or enhanced by photocopies of photographs that reduced the pictures to bold, simplified shapes of dark and light. Often Register would eliminate larger details such as barber stools, wall coverings, cars and people. This reductive approach to a composition was explained by the artist when he said, "Painting is less rendering and more distillation.... Every painting starts with a pure vision. Every brushstroke leads you further away from the vision. At the end, if the vision is barely discernible, you have to be grateful."

Organized chronologically, John Register: A Retrospective is the first major museum exhibition of the artist's work. In addition to the more than 50 paintings included in the show, a small group of works on paper will also be on view.

Register was born on February 1, 1939, in New York City. After graduating from The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey in 1957, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in English despite a strong interest in art. Before embarking on a career in advertising, Register studied at the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles and at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.

In 1972, at the height of a successful advertising career, Register acknowledged his deep unhappiness with corporate life. During an important business meeting he stood up, quietly announced that he had a dentist appointment, left the meeting and never returned to the office.

He spent a year in New York, painting every day, and studied briefly at the Art Students League before moving his family back to California, where he dedicated himself entirely to his art.

Although his interests included race car driving, surfing, swimming, running and tennis, throughout his adult life Register battled severe medical problems, undergoing kidney transplants in both 1981 and 1985. Despite an incredible will to live and a refusal to allow his illness to interfere with his painting, in 1996 he died of cancer at the age of 57, leaving behind a wife, three grown children and a grandson.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 192 page full-color monograph with an essay by noted author Barnaby Conrad III, who, with San Jose Museum of Art Curator Cathy Kimball, served as guest curator of the exhibition. Conrad, a longtime personal friend of Register's, served as senior editor of Horizon Magazine and editor and associate publisher of Art World magazine. His articles have appeared in over 30 publications, including Smithsonian, Art in America, Travel & Leisure, Los Angeles Times, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

John Register: A Retrospective is organized by the San Jose Museum of Art and is sponsored by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Bank of America Foundation, Citibank, and 3Com. Additional support has been provided by the San Jose Museum of Art Council of 100.

Funding is provided by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation.

revised 12/18/99

Read more about the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University in the Resource Library

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/22/10

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