Skateboarder and local musician John Brinton Hogan debuts art exhibition

‘Brightest Beacons, Blindest Eyes’ is at Mesa College Art Gallery through Oct. 17


John Brinton Hogan’s artwork is part photography, part digital manipulation and part painting. The large mixed-media pieces are an expression of his interests, his anxieties and lasting impressions from his childhood.

“I want to make people think of where we are as a species in this world,” Hogan said. “I haven’t found any answers. It’s a way of working out my anxieties, my fears.”

His artwork starts with one of his photographs. Hogan focuses on people out in the wilderness of the Southwest: a volunteer looking for bighorn sheep, a group camping or a photographer scouting for a subject. He then takes the photograph through a series of digital manipulations creating an other-worldly effect of mutant shapes and colors. The last step is to hand-paint all the human elements in a solid color, forming luminescent silhouettes with thick pigment that pop from the page. Some strokes are so thin, he uses a cat whisker — an idea he got when he found one that had come off his cat.

“What I’m thinking about is what might the world look like in their absence. You’re not sure whether the people are there or not,” Hogan said.

The unconventional pieces reflect Hogan’s unconventional life journey.

The San Diego native has been a skateboarder, the front man in the local rock group Rust and an assistant at film companies. He barely made it through high school and didn’t even consider college as an option. Skateboarding, he said, was a lot more exciting.

“I’ve always had a form of self-expression,” he said.

Now the 56-year-old is at Mesa College for his first San Diego solo exhibition, “Brightest Beacons, Blindest Eyes,” which opened last week at the college’s art gallery with 24 of his pieces.

“I love his approach to photography. It becomes almost like a painting,” said Alessandra Moctezuma, the gallery’s director.

After high school, Hogan skateboarded and worked for a number of skateboarding companies traveling the country, often photographing new products. Eventually, two knee injuries curtailed his skateboarding career, and he started playing guitar and singing for the rock quartet.

He eventually ended up in New York City and worked in the art department of a film company. There, he got serious about photography, documenting his life in New York. But his path took another turn when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Hogan came back to San Diego to take care of her in 1999. He’s been in San Diego ever since.

In the early 2000s, Hogan worked a lot of odd jobs, and in his spare time, he reconnected with his love of the Southwest, which he had traveled as a child with his father, who was into motor racing and hot rods. He began focusing on human infrastructure in the openness of Southwestern states.

But Hogan wanted to go beyond just capturing the landscape.

“I was motivated to create my own place in the arts dialogue,” Hogan said. “I wanted a new approach; more of my hand involved in the final product.”

This latest series, which he calls “Visual Aphasia,” started with a lot of trial and error for the self-taught photographer. A big inspiration, he said, was the 1953 movie “The War of the Worlds,” which was on late-night TV when he was young. The movie, which won an Academy Award for special effects at the time, stuck with him. People, zapped by a light beam, “became a glowing silhouette for a moment and then ceased to exist,” Hogan said. “The erasure of human form gave me nightmares. It’s been a major influence on my work.”

Sometimes he uses the same photograph with different effects. “The way I feel is the choices I make,” he said. He compares it to a musician playing the same song differently from one performance to the next.

Hogan often paints with glitter to capture the ephemeral nature of humanity and the spirit of the people who occupied that space at that moment in time.

“These are very personal to me. I’m not composing these pictures,” Hogan said. “I filter them through the influences, both historical and cultural, to create a stew.”

John Brinton Hogan: “Brightest Beacons, Blindest Eyes”

When: Through Oct. 17. Artist talk 2:30-4 p.m. Oct. 11.

Where: San Diego Mesa College Art Gallery, 7250 Mesa College Drive, San Diego

Tickets: Free

Phone: (619) 388-2600