Spring 2016,Degree Critical

Wednesday 02/10/2016

Jonathan Raissi. Sun Palisades 1, 2015.

DIALOGUES: Kaitlyn A. Kramer with Jonathan Raissi

For DEGREE CRITICAL Dialogues, a writer invites an artist to reflect intimately on a work she or he has made. The writer then crafts a description of the artwork intended to act as a text-based interpretation of the original work. We’ve published both texts as well as the image, so readers can read and see the work as it materializes through these multiple lenses.

I’m struck first by the sight of peach. My mind knows I am staring at a photograph but what I’m seeing is a painting. It’s a particular painting, full of grainy peach—a Paul Klee oil on jute in LACMA’s permanent collection (The Fruit, 1932), although I could be conflating every Klee I’ve ever seen into this one, and the photograph I’m seeing is really a painting after all. The jute is so rough in the painting it might well be a burlap sack stained by the pastel fruit. Its weave is like the grain of this photograph, covering its pale surfaces and mauve shadows. The Klee painting can be appreciated for its lines and geometries and curves, the components of a nice abstraction.

I crack a smile at this scene in a strip mall. I consider how satisfying it is to see a bland moment captured in such a way that those Modern abstract images come to mind.

A second look: the peach in the photograph is actually more of an ochre, or maybe just peach in the shade. The moment I think peach it sticks in my eyes, and then summer has come. Or maybe I just think of how impossibly bright the California light at noon is, and how fortuitous the shade must have been to capture the long shadows of a small boy’s energetic strides, and the way the tone of the ground changes under Auntie Anne’s invisible canopy. What a name.

We share a hometown, the photographer and I, and although I see our roots in the light of this photograph, I see nothing of home. The pristine Spanish arches and stucco façades are references to the native architectures that were torn down to offer convenience and comfort. Every time one of these strip malls appears across town, part of our history is white washed into flat painted surfaces that are recognizable, easy to clean, and easier to forget.

—Kaitlyn A. Kramer


The image was taken in a very recently built outlet mall in San Clemente, California. What was once a beach-side park is now a massive expanse of vacant cement structures ornamented by wordless branding Having an undetermined landscape of manufactured nature, an unflinching and nearly drowning amount of sunlight showers this master-plan structure. While most of the outlets have yet to open, the visitors cadaverously glide through the space, gawking at the newest triumph of regional development. Feeling unsettled by the environment, I remain in one spot underneath an ahistorical faux-adobe arch to shield myself from the sun and observe the passersby.

In my perception of the occupied space, a soldier leads a post-conflict survey of the new land acquisition.  He possesses an eager will to prove his worth and has broken from his commanding officers to do so. He wants to seize the new space and disseminate his discovery to his superiors. When he enters my frame of vision, a moment of calm truth washes over him like the oppressive sunlight that cracks through the structures before him. He puffs his chest and entrenches himself in the space, serenaded by the realization that there is not a soul that stands before him. It is, for this moment, only he and his spatial acquisition. He embodies joy and bewilderment in the bright light of ascension.  The brazen soldier forgets the elements of subjugation that may follow behind him. In his moment, and in my spectating, he is protected by an isolation of empowerment. Youth does not exist in this image.

—Jonathan Raissi