Allan D’Arcangelo’s American Landscape captures the country’s enduring love affair with the open road. By 1967, when the present work was painted, the country was in flux, and the outlook was as fractured as D’Arcangelo’s distant horizon. Thus, the painting acts as a metaphor about America’s cultural landscape; in a poignant reflection on the artist’s creative process, art historian Eileen Costello said, “His work from the 1960s reflects his personal response to some of the most important social, political, and moral issues of the decade: nuclear warfare, civil rights, environmentalism, and feminism” (H. Taggart, "Beyond Pop; Allan D'Arcangelo, Works from the Sixties," Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, 2014, p. 4). Against the backdrop of a fractious nation, D’Arcangelo proves that hope is also on the horizon as pale blue sky is awash with undertones of white light. A single cloud juxtaposes the large yellow sun, outlined in red and asymmetrical against itself. The figurative sun casts a shadow on its left side, which gives the round figure an illusion of depth.
D’Arcangelo was among a select group of Pop artists inspired by the contemporary American landscape, among them Ed Ruscha who shared his fondness for the American highway by painting the roadside architecture that runs alongside them. With his paintings of gasoline stations, Ruscha elevated an otherwise mundane hallmark of life, and his celebrated book Twentysix Gasoline Stations contains black and white photographs taken from the highway that connects Ruscha’s Los Angeles abode and his parents’ home in Oklahoma City. Ruscha encapsulates what drives the United States with an understated simplicity that mirrors D’Arcangelo. American Landscape is also reminiscent of D’Arcangelo’s 1962 painting U.S. Highway I (Smithsonian American Art Museum), a definitive representation of Pop Art’s relationship with Americana.
At the artist’s first major exhibition at the Thibaut-Fischbach Gallery in 1963, New York Times art critic Brian O’Doherty crowned D’Arcangelo as the ‘best Pop man around.’ This was a notable distinction among such contemporaries as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, however the artist was more interested in producing contemplative art than marrying himself to a particular genre. Considering his own artistic process, he explained, “If art isn’t about what we are, where we are, and when we are, I don’t see the point in making it” (Ibid.). His commitment to social consciousness gives his work lasting impact, and invites reflection on key historical moments that run parallel to his oeuvre. Whereas most ‘Pop’ adherents fixated on celebrity and mass-consumption, D’Arcangelo’s concerted interest in the often-overlooked aspects of American life set him apart. Thus, American Landscape exemplifies the caliber of work D’Arcangelo created in the 1960s.