Donald Moffett Blue (NY) redux
Hello lookers and readers,
It’s nice to see you again. On Nov 6 I posted “Donald Moffett: Blue (NY)” about political abstraction. I made you the promise that I’d scan the pages from said catalog to a higher resolution so you could read the text. Let’s see, it’s been 17 days – I came close once but then thought better of my plan. Instead now I’ll retype the text as quotes – in a manner similar to what I did with WORDS WITHOUT PICTURES. (WWP IS available from Aperture Press. Those posts began at the tail end of my Aug 5 post, continued in the Aug 6 post, and reached something of a conclusion in the WWP Aug 7 post)
This translation from fuzzy jpg to text will allow you to read Richard Torchia’s fascinating questions and you’ll begin to appreciate the skill with which he crafted them, knowing all the while that Moffett would refuse to respond. As I did, I urge you to seek out a copy of this book – I’m bringing you just a brief passage. Abstract painting is with us again (and always) and artists are investigating its possibilities with great vigor. We need to be aware of more than the formal balance and tension among materials, lines, colors, textures and shapes. I think artists need us to look for ideas in their paintings. Torchia’s book will help.
I also want to suggest, however, that your photos can function as meta-monochromes. They arrive at the end of a century marked by the persistent exploration of the single-color image. But because they are photographs, and employ the mechanics of depiction, I’m tempted to think of them as pictures of other blue monochromatic works, such as those by Yves Klein, or any number of contemporary painters. You have wisely acknowledged, if not authorized, a link with Derek Jarman’s final film BLUE(10), perhaps to endorse the association from the start, lest anyone else claim it. Such a reference is very explicit and much more immediate than any link with Klein, Reinhardt, or Malevich, etc., yet the photos of BLUE (NY) manage to absorb them all like some inexhaustible, postmodern vapor.
Alexander Rodchenko, who is credited with the first monochromes, wrote: “IN 1921 I REDUCED PAINTING TO ITS LOGICAL CONCLUSION AND EXHIBITED THREE CANVASES: RED, BLUE, AND YELLOW. I AFFIRMED: THIS IS THE END OF PAINTING.“(11) By so seamlessly distilling representation and abstraction, BLUE (NY) achieves a kind of historical inevitability without the hubris of such pronouncements. The photos render the blue sky as both concrete record and abstract symbol of our longing for the ideal. You’ve found an image that, in Jarman’s terms, “RELEASES US FROM IMAGE.“(12)
Considering the jump from your earlier confrontational works to these more “neutral” photos, it is difficult not to mention your “REPORT ON PAINTING,” a series of monochromatic canvases that preceded these photographs and offer a gentler transition to them. (13) These mostly pastel works are made of inch-deep accretions of single colors of pigment extruded onto small canvases. Despite their lack of any graphic image – abstract or otherwise – their eccentric textures suggest swaths of terry cloth, chenille, shag carpet, and rags, as well as decorated cakes and , as you have mentioned the microbiology deep within the bone. If they are “painterly,” it is in a literal, material sense afforded by miles of secreted oil, imploding Pollock’s drip paintings. I might propose, in their polite, retentive desperation and madness, They are as physical, opaque, and excessive as the photographs are ephemeral, translucent, and reductive. I’m wondering if you could have gotten to BLUE (NY) without them?
INVITED TO LECTURE ABOUT HIS OWN WORK, MOFFETT ELECTED INSTEAD TO SCREEN JARMAN’S 1993 FILM IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE EXHIBITION RECEPTION ON SEPTEMBER 17, 1997. INTENDED, IN PART, AS AN OBJECTIVE REFERENCE TO JARMAN’S OWN AIDS-RELATED BLINDNESS, THE FILM’S ONLY VISUAL COMPONENT IS A FIELD OF PURE BLUE – PROJECTED WITHOUT ANY INTERRUPTION – ONTO A HORIZONTAL SCREEN FOR SEVENTY-SIX MINUTES.
ALEXANDER RODCHENKO, “WORKING WITH MAYAKOWSKY,” , REPUBLISHED IN FROM PAINTING TO DESIGN: RUSSIAN CONSTRUCTIVIST ART OF THE TWENTIES (COLOGNE: GALERIE GMURZYNSKA, 1981), P. 191.
DEREK JARMAN, CHROMA (WOODSTOCK: THE OVERLOOK PRESS, 1995) P. 155. THE QUOTE IS INCLUDED IN THE CHAPTER ENTITLED “INTO THE BLUE,” WHICH CONSISTS OF NOTES THAT COMPRISE MUCH OF THE SCRIPT FOR BLUE.
MOFFETT REFERRED TO HIS FIRST PRESENTATION OF THESE MONOCHROME CANVASES (AT JAY GORNEY MODERN ART, NEW YORK, 1996) AS A “REPORT ON PAINTING.”
I have a note here form the file – when your exhibition was to be a show of these paintings – about your interest in “SIDESTEPPING THE SHOPWORN DISCOURSE ABOUT ‘NEW’ MATERIALS.”(14) It helps explain your recent decision to work with more traditional media – paint on canvas and unmanipulated photographs, as opposed to inscribed bowling balls, found engravings, backlit video stills, and the text pieces that characterize your prior work.
With BLUE (NY), you almost avoid the issue of materials altogether. And by reducing photography to its essence – the activity of stopping light – you also suppress the display of any connotative matter in your prints. You’re very careful to avoid even the slightest inflection of color that could read as atmospheric and thus take on the appearance of a depicted substance. In the absence of any palpable subject, the photographic grain in your prints becomes the only “figure” against a ground that we could say is vision itself – much in the same way that traces of our own retinas (and invariable “floaters”) can become visible when we gaze directly at a clear sky. Your photographs then – all of which are modestly scaled to the head – become intimate analogs for the vision of anyone who looks at them. The rigor with which you make a very real something of what Goethe called “ENCHANTING NOTHINGNESS”(15) is confounding. Each print has the quality of the immaculate, the unmediated, and amaterial, somehow rendered as an object for our inspection.
The sky appears blue as a consequence of physical conditions that have everything to do with our place as “bottom-dwellers.”(16) In small amounts, the air in our atmosphere is colorless, but because air molecules scatter the short (blue) wavelengths of sunlight, and absorb all others, the accumulation of this scatering, seen on a large scale and at vast depth from our vantage point on the earth’s surface, reads as “blue” to the eye. We could say, then, that not only is the blue sky one of nature’s most lovely optical effects, but a textbook illustration of distance, shich your photos make proximate and available. In thIS way, they remove, as Gary Sangster suggested, the “DISCRETE CAMOUFLAGE OF OUR INTENSE SENSE OF FAMILIARITY AND KNOWLEDGE OF THE SKY’S IMMEASURABLE SCALE AND ITS EVER PRESENT RECURRENCE.”(17)
NOTE TAKEN BY THEN DIRECTOR OF THE BEAVER COLLEGE ART GALLERY PAULA MASRINCOLA FROM A CONVERSATION WITH MOFFETT IN THE SPRING OF 1997.
JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, THEORY OF COLORS. (1810), ENTRY NO.779.
A TERM APPLIED FREQUENTLY BY JAMES TURRELL TO DESCRIBE THE RELATIONSHIP OF HUMANS TO ATMOSPHERIC STRATA.
GARY SANGSTER, TEXT FROM ENTRY ON MOFFETT’S PHOTOGRAPHS FROM BROCHURE ACCOMPANYING “MYSTERIOUS VOYAGES,” A GROUP EXHIBITION SANGSTER CURATED FOR THE CONTEMPORARY MUSEUM BALTIMORE, 1998.
I have just a little more to go, and I’ll get to it tomorrow. It’s 11:54 PM and things start happening early in the morning for me. Um, cyclosporin pills at 6, blood lab at Kaiser Sunset at 8, downtown to work as soon after that as I can… Hollywood Fwy here I come!
A couple of links, updated on August 17, 2011
Update on Aug 17, 2011
Donald Moffett, part one: From “Donald Moffett: Blue (NY)” About political abstraction
Donald Moffett, part two: Donald Moffett Blue (NY) redux
Exhibition opening on October 1, 2012 – Donald Moffett: The Extravagant Vein at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, organized by Valerie Cassel Oliver, Senior Curator at CAMH