There is something bewitching about the desolation of Deanna Thompson’s deserted desert dwellings. Subtly surreal, they resist easy interpretation. From a distance, the seemingly abandoned structures rest against a seemingly endless barren landscape. The flatness of color employed for earth and sky is reminiscent of de Chirico’s painted visions, and they are equally haunting and theatrical, if not cinematic. A reference to John Divola’s photographs of similar views also seems relevant here. Approaching the works physically, from across the room to up-close and personal, penetrating into the psyche of these ramshackle shanties, has the vertigo-rich sensation of a Hitchcock-style Dolly Zoom. Forgive the reference; we are, after all Hollywood-adjacent, as was Deanna Thompson who was born in Bakersfield, and began her career in Los Angeles before moving to nearby, but worlds away, Yucca Valley (just outside of the better-known Joshua Tree National Forest). The artist worked there in relative isolation, as the paintings suggest, for over three decades before she passed away in 2015. The recent show on view at Kayne Griffin Corcoran, “a survey in memoriam” and third solo exhibition at the gallery, is comprised of the Desert House paintings, paired with excerpts from her Light Fixture series and abandoned car paintings, each telling indicators of human activity, despite the lack thereof.
A striking feature that unifies many of Thompson’s scenes, both interior and exterior, is the dramatic horizontal bifurcation of the compositions. In the exteriors, this line denotes the horizon, crisply articulated with the house paintings and uniformly blurred behind the cars; in the interior scenes this line marks where the wall meets the ceiling, and yet seems to misbehave. Instead of flat, the walls read similar to the landscapes and appear to recede far from view. These paintings become portraits implied by the vanished occupant of the empty house, abandoned car, or even the light fixtures, described as the artist’s friends “seen through the domestic interior of their homes.” Contrasting the majority of the compositions, Interior #1 (2011) brings the viewer inside one of the crumbling structures. In this example, the stabilizing force of the horizon is removed and replaced with sweeping diagonals. The stark emptiness of the tattered room looks out to an uninterrupted view of the sky, with only shades of cerulean blue visible through the windows and broken roof. Alone and isolated, but also, perhaps, at peace.