1. In the late 1960s, Richard Artschwager disseminated his flat ovular, pill-shaped ‘blips’ on his cross-country roadtrip and all over the urban skin of New York City. They were absorbed topically into the landscape, a staccato tattoo showing up unexpectedly like a coded message or a rare bird you learn to spot with excitement. Artschwager’s interventions added an incongruous but inconspicuous level of visual detail to the environment; easy to miss in plain sight. He distributed his work over urban and continental space, turning the country’s terrestrial expanse into a continuous artistic ground. The blips laid claim to an expansive new scale for his art, mapping and leveraging huge distances with small punctuations of form—oblong periods to run-on sentences of built and natural features of physical space.
2. By that same time, John Baldessari had taken photography on the road, shooting from behind his windshield the back of every truck he passed on his drive from LA to Santa Barbara. He committed to the disguised intelligence of deadpan dumbness, staking a practice on its profundity. He cracked visual jokes exploiting photography’s weird flattening of perspective: A woman made giant by proximity kisses the fronds of a palm tree made diminutive by distance. Red balls tossed in the air were captured suspended in a line. It was the apotheosis of awkward, brilliant, simple optical illusions and pictorial puns. Bad photography has never been the same nor so good.
3. Earlier this summer, Myra “Sugartits” McGillicutty took a roadtrip aimed nowhere. The point was to drive in lines. And leave a trace. She brought brushes and paints. She altered signs along the highway as she went, turning thin sheets of mounted metal into surfaces for elevated road-side paintings. “Sugartits” was a different kind of sign-painter, thinking about the freeway as drive-thru gallery, driver and passenger as captive, unsuspecting audience. They were quick, drive-by paintings describing a nimble, improvisatory practice premised on speed and graphic simplicity. We are used to seeing and ignoring so many signs around us that, like Artschwager’s blips, you could easily miss McGillicuty’s handiwork as you speed by at 90 mph.
4. Since they are dispersed over thousands of miles of freeway and most states in the union, trying to find one of her paintings (before they are vandalized or discovered by the local authorities and dismantled) would be nearly impossible, like finding a straw needle in a haystack. For us, then, they exist as a set of documentary photographs.
5. “Sugartits” started out riffing on the graphic language of recognizable symbols and silhouetted icons used in official road-signage. One big horn sheep stamped on a sign alerting drivers to local wildlife glares with beady, laser eyes of white light—a subtle tweak that radiates some mounting menace. An anomalous, impossible yellow sign warns of high UFO activity and incidents of spacecraft throwing lightening bolts over the next ten miles. An interstate identification placard blinks infinity as cars whiz by, already a mile past before they can do a double-take. Did you see that?
6. Next, she painted quick, loose contour self-portraits, replicating the pose (in person) in front of the sign-paintings for the camera. An element of performance and embodiment enters into play. Her emphasis moves more towards the photographic, the image of herself doubled and enlarged above her. Arm extended and pointing west in one large piece, the white-on-dark green painting is like a chalkboard drawing, connoting the demonstrative and instructive function of a classroom lesson in pranksterism. The picture pops like the chalk outline of a slain body on asphalt: the indexical feel of tracing comes through.
7. In a third group of signs, “Sugartits” painted perspectival tricks where dimensional, real space interacts with flat, pictorial space. The tangential meeting of real and depicted achieves a momentary suspension of perceptual belief. A passage of spatial confusion. A collapse of depth that quickens my pulse because falling feels good. Locating crude animation in unlikely places, a glass bottle tilted above one sign pours out flat, black drops of paint against a cinematic backdrop of Old West desert fit for Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Nearby, McGillicutty throws a hard punch: POW! and a jagged reverberation of cartoon color shocks the sign. We are now even further into the realm of the photographic. These little gags, these jokes only hold up from the one angle we are presented; shift the perspective an inch in any direction and misalignment would destroy the low-tech effect.
8. McGillicutty doesn’t title her interventions. She defines them in three ways: as painted objects (painting? sculpture?), as photographs, and as durational actions.
9. Looking to possibilities laid out nearly a half century earlier, McGillicuty wants more than to escape the white cube, she wants to escape the white cube’s audience. She requires the unprepared and untrained viewer, the non-art crowd…(nostalgic for a pre-art innocence, childishness?). The form is both loud and silent, startling and negligible. It buzzes with disjunct. A slight stoner lag, then each painting knits the viewer’s brow. The driver doubts herself. Or perhaps, smiles, caught off guard by a giant cartoon cock.
10. This road doesn’t end—a virtual Infinite Highway. You can check the map but it won’t resolve anything.
- Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer and Jeff Hassay