LAMA BLOG

The Haunting Realism of John Register

May 5, 2016

One of the most distinctive American realist painters of the late twentieth century, John Register (1939–1996) created a stark and haunting body of work that depicts places without people—waiting rooms, hotel lobbies, office spaces empty save for a chair or two, deserted bus stations, diners, sidewalks, and streetscapes. His scenes—in their tension between light and shadow and their embrace of vivid color—evoke an existential bleakness which has prompted comparisons to the work of Edward Hopper. To this Register responded: “With Hopper you witness someone else’s isolation; in my pictures, I think you, the viewer, become the isolated one.”

Lot 241, John Register, Motel: Route 66 (1991)
Lot 241, John Register, Motel: Route 66 (1991)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Register’s artistic career began in remarkable style. One day in 1972, not long after his 33rd birthday, Register, miserable in his New York advertising job, stood up at a meeting, announced he had a dentist’s appointment, and left for good. As he later recalled: “I saw that this was the way my whole life would be in advertising. I realized that I just couldn’t do it.”

Lot 242, John Register, Waiting Room for the Beyond (1988)
Lot 242, John Register, Waiting Room for the Beyond (1988)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Register would eventually settle in Malibu. In Southern California he found the scenery and atmosphere that imbues his art. Light is the chief element in Register’s paintings, most often in the form of pristine sunlight. Artificial illumination is relatively rare in his paintings, but can be found in such night scenes as Motel: Route 66. Whether austerely sun-drenched or starkly fluorescent, Register’s evocative depictions of the lonely and remote run the spectrum. “I look for an offbeat beauty,” said Register, who died of cancer at age 57. “I like the patina of things that have been battered by life.”

Conrad, Barnaby. John Register: Persistent Observer. San Jose: San Jose Museum of Art, 1998. Print. Browning, Jeffrey. John Register. Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow/Modernism, 1985. Print.

Lot Information:

Lot 241
John Register
Motel: Route 66
1991
Oil on canvas
Signed lower right; retains
Modernism Inc. label verso
Canvas: 35″ x 50″
Frame: 36.5″ x 51.5″

Provenance: Modernism Inc., San Francisco, California; Private Collection, West Hollywood, California (acquired directly from the above)

Exhibited: “John Register: New Paintings,” Modernism Inc., San Francisco, September 12-October 26, 1991

Illustrated: John Register: Persistant Observer. B. Conrad III. 1999. 131.

Estimate: $40,000–$60,000
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 242
John Register
Waiting Room for the Beyond
1988
Silkscreen on paper
#74 of 85
Published by Modernism Inc., San Francisco
Signed and dated in graphite lower right margin of sheet beneath image; edition lower left
Image: 35″ x 35″
Sheet: 41″ x 41″
Frame: 46″ x 46″

Provenance: Modernism Inc., San Francisco, California

Exhibited: “John Register Prints & Recent Works on Paper,” Modernism Inc., San Francisco, September 6-October 27, 1990

Estimate: $2,000–$2,500
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

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