There was a time not long ago when people took road trips and, instead of having their eyes on the screens of their cell phones the entire time, they stared out the window and watched America quite literally pass them by. Certain things could be counted on; motels, billboards, and the mutable character of the sky. Paul Rouphail‘s paintings look and feel like unearthed gems from that pre-smartphone era or the made-up memories of someone who spent so much of their cross-country trip behind the steering wheel (and surviving on energy drinks).
What makes Mr. Rouphail’s work come alive on a computer screen is that many appear to be photographs when they are thumbnails. Once enlarged you can see the painstakingly detailed brushwork and pitch perfect color choices in his collection of travelogue-inspired paintings. The I’ve-been-there-before familiarity of Mr. Rouphail’s content seems to mimic both current trends in our cultures obsession with immediately documenting all we do but I think he is doing a bit more. His artist’s website features a quote from Rem Koolhaas that calls the American city “an empty [symbol]; available for meaning as a billboard is for advertisement”. It is not lost on Mr. Rouphail that advertisement seems to be a fundamental part of the American city (and desert highway) as it seems that the only people that show up in his paintings are not people at all, but billboard images meant to sell something – but who? Where is everyone in Mr. Rouphail’s paintings?
Statistics show us that more and more people are moving back into urban areas in America. Maybe you live in an urban area and a Sunday afternoon looks a lot like Sunday, 3 AM or maybe you say A Tall Building in an American City and immediately thought “Is that Chicago/New York/St. Louis/Houston/etc.?” While the artist might not be trying to make any grand statements with these images so much as he is documenting the dual nature of American cities to be so densely populated yet not appear to be in their common social space in 2014. Please enjoy these images and hear over to Mr. Rouphail’s website to see more.