I don’t know that I’d normally use so many images to portray a single painter, but it’s as much his thematic approach as any single work that makes JOHN REGISTER so fascinating to me (for me). Maybe the best way to describe why it felt so jarring is with his own words when explaining how he feels he is different to Edward Hopper, with whom he’s been compared: “With Hopper you witness someone else’s isolation; in my pictures, I think you, the viewer, become the isolated one.” That made immediate sense to me. With Hopper, there is nearly always a subject, a person, or a group of people. Attention is focused on what perhaps that person is experiencing in the space. With Register, there is no discernible subject but the space itself.
I’ve heard this phenomenon called LIMINAL SPACE. There is a fair definition of what that is on the linked page, but it creates a sense that nothing has yet happened. The windows often play heavily, or the spaces in diner booths, but there is no view. There’s a space and beyond the space there is more space. It’s the absence of a subject and particularly the absence of a single other person but the viewer that creates a “situation.” in the brain. We are waiting for something to happen when we view the space. It’s how our minds are trained. This space was fabricated for people, so where the hell are the people? Oh, we are here, viewing.
Also, thematically speaking, I’d always considered EDWARD HOPPER to be more like EDVARD MUNCH. The subjects often seem to be in liminal spaces psychically. There is a pervading sense of melancholy. There is an untold story, or a partially told story awaiting an ending to be created by a viewer. John Register creates the space for a beginning, middle and end. Also the REALISM, approaching and often reaching HYPERREALISM makes it all that much more compelling. We are drawn into the space by our own expectations of a story being told, and all the while the story is ours to tell. The effect, for me, is eerie. It’s even eerie without the scale and depth of the actual paintings. A small image on a laptop is enough to demand the questions, “What the hell is going on here?”
Or, “What happened here?”
The space is transitioning from what to what?
Of course my mind is trained that much more from a lifetime of watching horror and science fiction movies where liminal spaces always transition to an attack. That leaves me with a mixture of melancholy and a chill of anticipation when I look at these paintings.
So, I need more. At some point I will seek out the actual paintings. For now, there is my quarantined museum.