Allan D’Arcangelo has long been recognised as a leading figure among the first generation of American Pop Artists. These artists reacted to the relatively new and utterly pervasive visual landscape of mid twentieth-century America – one defined by endlessly reproduced images from popular and consumer culture. While his early Pop work engaged with mass culture, by 1962 D’Arcangelo turned his attention to the open road, an equally ubiquitous aspect of the post-war American experience. Developed throughout the 1960s, these landscape paintings are amongst Pop Art’s most iconic images.
D’Arcangelo’s landscapes follow the development of the inter-state highway network in 1956, which replaced winding state roads with endless concrete ribbons. Beginning with his 1962 Full Moon and subsequent US Highway #1 series, D’Arcangelo captured the American landscape through the standardised language of road signs and markers that became one of its defining features.
By the second half of the 1960s, D’Arcangelo began to emphasize the road sign’s formal elements in compositions that became increasingly abstract, such as the present work. Herein lies what Nicolas Calas, undoubtedly one of the artist’s most insightful commentators, described as the metaphysical aspect of his work. Calas compares D’Arcangelo to Giorgio De Chirico, who placed ancient images in a context where they lost their meaning. The present work similarly divides contemporary images from their factual form, emphasizing colour and spatial relationships over meaning. Faced with symbols that are both recognisable and unintelligible, the viewer’s mind is free to wander unobstructed by fact.
This surreal quality indicates a major difference between D'Arcangelo's conception of the highway and one presented by Jack Kerouac and Robert Frank. Whereas the latter two see the road as a series of places, where rites of passage occur and stories unfold, for D'Arcangelo it is a place without time and without characters, only the hypnotic repetition of road signs, billboards and open space. The brilliance of D’Arcangelo’s work lies in its ability to hold so many layers in an image that is utterly minimal.
D'Arcangelo’s work can be found in numerous public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Guggenheim Museum, the Walker Art Center, the Centre Georges Pompidou, and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, among many others.