Kate and I trawled the galleries Thursday night. Among other shows, we saw paintings by Jill Moser and Louis Cameron.
Jill Moser's work is all about the quality of the surface - her paintings are very smooth, almost like polished plaster. The paint sits beneath the surface - she relies heavily on absorption, and it's surprising to see this level of expressiveness with such a smooth surface. The smoothness makes the images look almost like prints, but it's clear they are not. I found the images quite affectful, tantalizing.
The text for the show described Moser's work using words like "lucid", "indeterminate", "velvety void". Moser herself quotes the abstract expressionist pioneer Philip Guston. The text, like her work, seemed tentative - not a loud argument, but nuanced.
Louis Cameron combines minimalism with consumer culture in his work, which is confident and bold. I could immediately sense where he was coming from.
Cameron has a system for generating his works based upon the color charts of consumer products like M&Ms. As with the images themselves, this approach is very "now" and thought out.
I'm a fan of minimalism, so I was naturally disposed to like Cameron's paintings. However, when I approached one of his tile images, I found the surface disappointing: it seemed overly manufactured, almost molded, there was a lot of texture but not much depth. I saw little variation in the tiles, little sense of his struggling with the constraints or uncertainty of a process. I sensed an artist fully in charge, following a process whose outcome was certain and predictable.
My reactions? Moser's work is beautiful to look at, but my immediate response was to think she was regurgitating abstract expressionism. How is this new? And although Cameron's work is less visually provocative, he did appear to be proposing a clear critique.
Kate and I vigorously debated this. Afterwards, and with a few days reflecting, I've changed my mind.
In Cameron's tile paintings, yes, the critique is very direct. But consumer candy seems such a safe subject to attack, I now wonder if this isn't simply checkbox criticism. And the statistics he chose to represent also seem arbitrary: "the percentage of color in the color code of a product" is presented as though this is a meaningful quantity, but all it really tells us is that candy manufacturers like bright colors.
With Moser's work, her positioning is a more vague. However, likening her images to abstract expressionism is also too fast: There are many things she is doing that don't follow the rules of abstract expressionism. For example, she creates a central element, rather than using all of the canvas equally. And the smooth surface she uses seems quite in contrast to the vigorous thick impasto of many abstract expressionists. Her tentative imagery and text left room for me as a viewer to fill in more later, to revisit the images in my head and rethink what made them tick.
In the end, it is Moser's images that I keep returning to.