Billboards: Real Art for Real Life

Photos and story by JR Compton

Out of Gallery Art Index

Got a billboard to share?

It's high and it's art, but is it high art? Well, why not, it's as arty an experience as most people ever get. Why not consider the lowly billboard.


At a distance it looks like a large, red violin. We get closer, and it's too red for a violin. Eventually, when we're almost upon the billboard, it turnes into a seedy watermelon with sweet, musical aspirations. I think of Bluegrass Gospel or Old Timey Regressive Country. The sign is elegant, simple, slowly subtle yet blatant. Its message unclear, flat yet distinctly three dimensional. I have deliberately not obscurred the name of the billboard company in this instance, because they should be praised and promoted.


I've obscured the label and the name of this billboard company, because I don't want to promote either. But everything else in this contemporary genre painting is as you can see it along highways around Dallas and the rest of that beverage's distribution range.

I don't particularly want to discuss the phallic shapes of the bottle tops on the right 40% of this frame or their bubbly, warm red translucence, although as the brightest object in the "photo" it naturally attracts the most attention. And, of course, that symbolism is important in the work's overall message. But ...

It's the scene at left that interests me. The trendy young woman holding the bottle in front of her gold braided, bared midriff gets the full light of attention, second only to the bottles. The hand holding the bottle has a string around the wrist, which appears to link her to the beer.

She's thin, draped in an odd, barely attached bib-like top and even smaller denim vest that accentuate her smallish stature with ambiguous shape and space that needs double-taking to figure out what just what she's wearing. Her shiny shoulder and rib wrinkled front is illuminated via strange, bright, inferred light, almost as if it were emanating from the bottle she grips — her source of enlightenment? And the upper arm clasp seems painted on.

Thick, almost pouting lips open slightly, as if in surprise or appreciation. She stares towards, but just past the viewer. The long, seductive slope of her buttocks is exposed over dark trousers pulled down slightly in the back.

The masked dark, implied space behind projects her into a almost credible three-dimensionality. Vestigially as we drive by at a mile a minute, a hetero couple engages in veiled foreplay. She in low cut top, scoop of breast implied in a soft splash of light from a mysterious above. This woman is reaching an impossibly thin arm to the bushy-haired man's nearly obscurred body, which is soley deliniated by a long, rumpled, vertical shaft of light, although a hint of wrist dangles below. Both figures are lightly rim lighted from behind, separating their dark forms from the solid blackness. Is she pulling back his shirt to expose his chest? Does he have a beard? We don't know much about either of them. But we know instantly what they're about.

Staring at our heroine with her long, scraggley, bunched and braided, reddish hair is a taller white haired, darker complected, older male in veiled darkest blue, contrasting the couple opposite's reddish glow His thick arm bulges from a black, muscle T-shirt, a thin white X over his heart, hands on his hips, his shadowed face watching. Mirroring the surreal longneck of the bottles beside him, he leans into them and watches Pouty Lips intently.

The message is clear.


This last of the series so far is what happens when you "OPEN ER UP" as the beer billboard in the background, racy with a numbered stock car exhorts. Just think of the fun of mixing racing cars and beer. Oh boy!

If you have a billboard you'd like to tell us about, tell us about it. If you want, I'll go photograph it. There must be some more of these things out there that are interesting, intruiging or just plain goofy.


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