John Register (1939-1996) Watching the Storm (Denver), 1988

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Lot 39
John Register
Watching the Storm (Denver), 1988

Sold for US$ 106,325 inc. premium
John Register (1939-1996)
Watching the Storm (Denver), 1988

signed 'Register' (lower right)
oil on canvas

40 x 90 3/4 in.
101.6 x 228.6 cm


  • Provenance
    Collection of Barnaby Conrad III, San Francisco
    Modernism, San Francisco
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2001

    San Jose, San Jose Museum of Art, John Register: A Retrospective, 16 January - 9 May 1999 (this exhibition later traveled to Seattle, Frye Art Museum, 2 July - 29 August 1999, Palm Springs, Palm Springs Desert Museum, 25 September - 28 November 1999, Malibu, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, 8 January - 28 March 2000 and Sun City, West Valley Art Museum/Sun Cities Museum of Art, 18 August - 8 October 2000)

    Barnaby Conrad III, John Register, San Francisco, 1989, pp. 106-107, illustrated in color
    Barnaby Conrad III, John Register: Persistent Observer, San Francisco, 1998, pp. 6 - 7, illustrated in color

    John Register was born into a socially prominent family in New York. He studied at the Pratt Institute (founded by his great-grandfather), graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and attended the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco where he received an F in painting from his teacher, the prominent Bay Area painter, Elmer Bischoff. Prior to becoming an artist, Register had a successful career as an advertising executive. In his early 30s, while in a meeting, he realized he had had enough. "I stood up and said, 'I'm sorry, I have a dentist appointment. I have to leave.' They all looked at me quizzically. I left the meeting, left a note for my boss, and never went back to the office" (Barnaby Conrad III, John Register, Chronical Books, 1989, p. 15).

    Although he became an artist later in life, Register quickly made painting the main focus of his daily activities and was already showing at the David Stuart Gallery in Los Angeles by the mid-1970s. Beginning with car focused imagery, he soon moved on to explore what became his signature subject matter, becoming best known for his paintings of Los Angeles cityscapes and interior-exteriors, very often featuring anonymous locations and unremarkable chairs.

    Register has been quoted describing his fascination with chairs. "When I look at a chair, I think that someone has just left the room, or even died. The painting might even be about my own absence" (Barnaby Conrad III, John Register, Chronical Books, 1989, p. 35). Register was diagnosed with a serious kidney disease at 18 and as a result experienced kidney failure at 41. An organ transplant with a kidney donated by his sister saved his life and was followed by a second transplant in 1985. For all his adult life, the artist lived with a constant memento mori, which may have contributed to the deep and thoughtfully psychological nature of his paintings.

    Created in 1988, Watching the Storm (Denver) speaks of the calm before the storm and has an anticipatory stillness that vibrates with tension. The composition is simple, yet masterfully complex. Divided in half – interior and exterior, solitary and crowded, light and dark. The single chair in a nameless hotel room that looks out over a Denver parking lot stands in for the person who might occupy that space. This imbues the painting with a sense of watchful loneliness, isolated even while being surrounded by the activity of the city. The painting is concordant with the philosophy of the flaneur. There is a voyeuristic sensibility to Watching the Storm. Not only is the unseen occupant of the hotel room viewing the coming tempest, but we are also watching the hotel room occupant, waiting for their return.

    As with many of Register's great works, the fall of the shadow on the chair gives a sense of late afternoon raking light as the day nears its end and storm approaches. The color and shape of the shadow show the artist's formal mastery. Every aspect of the painting communicates an element of the subtle narrative. The almost toy-like cars that populate the parking lot below are not only a feat of depth and delicacy, but also serve as an effective contrast of the one apart from the many. Watching the Storm (Denver) is an example of the artist at the peak of his powers. The painting lavishly demonstrates Register's command of the medium and laudable economy of elemental form, as well as his ability to communicate a deeply affecting narrative about the human condition that sets him apart from his peers and contemporaries.
John Register (1939-1996) Watching the Storm (Denver), 1988
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