Allan D'Arcangelo began his studies interested in history and government, but eventually switched to art. He was born in Buffalo, New York in 1930, and he attended the University of Buffalo, the City College of New York, and the New School for Social Research. In 1957, D'Arcangelo went to Mexico City College, where he studied under John Golding for two years, and where he had the first exhibition of his work in 1958. He has taught at many institutions, including Brooklyn College and School of Visual Arts in New York City. In 1964, he was commissioned to paint the mural for the Transportation and Travel Pavilion at the New York World's Fair, and in 1967 he was commissioned to paint a mural on the side of a New York building, one of the first instances of outdoor murals in New York City. He won the National Institute of Arts and Letters Annual Award in 1970, and painted a poster for the Olympic Games in Munich in 1970 as well. More recently, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship (1987-88).
Allan D'Arcangelo is best known for his paintings of the highway, which he began in 1963. These paintings are typically flat planes with a perspectival highway extending into the distance. Often the highway was surrounded by the logos of gas stations and other highway signage, floating, disembodied, in the background. Early in his career, he made a name for himself as part of the Pop art movement, with works such as Marilyn and Madonna and Child, from 1962 and 1963, respectively. Some of the characteristics of Pop art are retained in his highway paintings, particularly the use of popular brand name logos, and the expanses of flat color. However, as the highway paintings evolved, they moved away from Pop art. D'Arcangelo's paintings became much more abstracted, sometimes reduced to a stylized traffic barrier repeated at different angles. Also un-Pop art like was the inspiration for these highway paintings, coming from childhood memories and a desire to distill memory down to its simple, essential forms. Perhaps the most interesting part of the paintings are the contrasts: the flat picture plane and the one point perspective highway receding beyond the picture plane, the real and the artificial as seen in the use of color, light and shape, and the abstract and representational.
These contrasts are found in the acrylic painting, Untitled (Dam), that D'Arcangelo did for the Bureau of Reclamation. He uses perspective to depict the tower, which is placed off-center in the painting so the viewer's eye is drawn back to the vanishing point, and then along the rest of the structure off the edge of the painting. The eye is drawn back to the painting by the large red basket object. The red basket and most of the rest of the elements in the painting are rendered quite flat, with large areas of undistinguished color. Some sense of depth (beyond the use of perspective on the tower) is achieved by the layering of the cables in front of the dam structure. There is also a stark contrast in light and shade. Like the highway paintings this is a mechanized or technological landscape in which some elements are rendered more believably than others; a mixture of abstract schematic diagrams and representation.