John Register

artist artwork
John Sherman Register was born on February 1, 1939, in New York City. His parents divorced when he was 3, and Register moved to the Los Angeles area in 1942 following his mother’s marriage to an Army psychiatrist. He was educated at the University of California at Berkeley, where he was influenced by the Photo-realist artists Richard Estes and Ralph Goings. However, unlike these painters, Register used photographs merely as a starting point - an armature - for his work.

Register came to art late in life, and his journey was an unusual one. Along the way he was a race-car driver, advertising art director, photographer, tennis fanatic, competitive chess player, compulsive letter writer and reader, ice-boat racer, backpacker, fisherman, surfer, and family man. During the last 16 years of his life he battled serious kidney problems and underwent grueling treatments for cancer. Such struggles seemed to drive his career until he passed away in 1996.

Register's 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 summed up 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.

Although he was a realist who used photographs as a point of departure, Register was not a photo-realist painter. “For me, painting is less rendering and more distillation. I try to reduce an image to its essence,” he said. He even felt that the poorer the photograph he worked from, the better the painting turned out. Occasionally he photocopied photographs to reduce them to simplified shapes of light and dark.

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