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John Brinton Hogan
“Volunteers Removing Invasive Plants, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California, January 2015” from John Brinton Hogan’s exhibition at Mesa College Art Gallery / Photo courtesy of John Brinton Hogan
“Volunteers Removing Invasive Plants, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California, January 2015” from John Brinton Hogan’s exhibition at Mesa College Art Gallery / Photo courtesy of John Brinton Hogan

Photographer and mixed media artist John Brinton Hogan works out of two small studios perched atop El Cajon Boulevard. It’s one of the hottest days of the season when I visit, and he’s framing the work that he’ll show at Mesa College Art Gallery this week.

“There’s a trend right now among artists in contemporary art to make work that is ephemeral, and that’s tempting,” he said. “To make art that breaks down, that through chemical processes, the work actually either degrades or destroys itself. And I can’t step over that line at this point — I mean, I worked in a museum. I’m stressed about the fucking temperature in here.”

Hogan prepared Japanese-style hinges, using archival-grade wheat paste and small strips of Japanese paper to secure prints to matting and frames. The point is that the mounting process is reversible, and that means the work can last forever. “If the work ever needs to be unframed and completely taken apart, a conservator could reverse what I’m doing here.”

It’s a sentiment that is somewhat at odds with what is in his work. Hogan’s forthcoming exhibition, called “Brightest Beacons, Blindest Eyes,” involves landscape photography with a distorted, embellished human component.

“It’s a particularly anxious time for us as a species, with seemingly nothing but bad news,” he said. “But everyone seems so frozen and unable to move or do anything collectively to stave off the apocalyptic things that sound like they’re headed our way.”

Hogan’s process to create these works was specific and repetitive. He took a photograph and digitally processed it, distorting it with a repetitive series of steps in Photoshop until the colors and individual pixels seemed unnatural (and satisfied his mild synesthesia), and then, on a massive print, he painted over the humans or human objects with bright, glittery paint. It’s a striking expression of the irreversibility of the human touch on the planet.

It’s also a bit alien.

His work was influenced by the fear and anxiety of childhood, specifically things that provoke it. To him, that was the “War of the Worlds” film. “The moment when the Martian laser beam comes out of the ship and freezes the human beings in the scene, the obliteration, the disappearing of the human form. Just before it disappeared, it glowed brightly,” Hogan said.

He photographed people interacting purposefully with the landscape: friends hiking or a volunteer team removing invasive plants. And by adorning them with paint, he’s not just making something beautiful, he’s calling attention to the way humans use nature as well as the subjective influence of the artist.

With the digitization of photography, Hogan wanted to maintain an artist’s touch on his work. “I wanted to extremely put my hand in it,” he said. His process is as precise as producing or editing a piece of music, but also as random as any flawed, human practice. In Hogan’s case, a mild synesthesia often dictates where the colors end up. But he admits that the way he determines if a piece is finished sometimes comes down to dinnertime. “You reach a point of maybe exhaustion or hunger,” he said, “Or maybe there’s a sense of satisfaction, like, yeah, I’ll stop there.”

John Brinton Hogan
John Brinton Hogan in his studio / Photo by Julia Dixon Evans

With a checkered past of barely making it out of high school, the native San Diegan delved into skateboarding photography and rock music. It wasn’t until well into adulthood that Hogan focused on his art in a sustaining way. “I make the work because I feel it’s necessary for my life,” he said, and that if other people gain anything from it, that’s a bonus. “This is an exercise to keep me sane,” he said.

This is Hogan’s first local solo show. An opening reception for “Brightest Beacons, Blindest Eyes” is Thursday evening at Mesa College Gallery. The exhibition runs through Oct. 17.

So. Much. Photography. (And More Arts and Culture News)

Visual Art

Film and Literature


Theater and Dance

  • Cygnet Theater presents the U.S. premiere of Kate Henning’s “The Virgin Trial.” The script is whip-smart, witty and lyrical (and a bit emotionally devastating), about Elizabeth I and the treasonous accusations regarding her stepfather. After the performance on Friday, I will moderate a talk-back panel with Jamie Beck of Free to Thrive, a nonprofit that fights for victims of human trafficking, and Jenni Prisk of the Women’s Museum of California.
  • The first weekend of San Diego Dance Theater’s site-specific Trolley Dances is this weekend! The tickets are tour-based, but given that the performances are in public places, you may be able to catch some of this iconic and very San Diego project as a bystander.

Tech Culture

Miscellany and More

  • Erstwhile San Diegan Brian Simpson performed a fantastic stand-up set on Comedy Central’s “Lights Out with David Spade” last week.
  • Musicologist Charissa Noble is holding a lecture series at the La Jolla Athenaeum, this time on “The Art Mythology of California.” Thursday’s installment challenges the idea of the “cultural wasteland” in California. The final lecture on Oct. 3 is on hip-hop and “outside art” in Los Angeles. (KPBS)

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Food, Etc.

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