Friday, June 4th, 2010

Gerard Mosse at Elga Wimmer

May 5-June 12, 2010
526 West 26th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212 206 0006

Gerard Mosse, Bending to Catch the Light,  2009-2010. Oil on Linen, 56 x 42 inches.  Courtesy Elga Wimmer PCC
Gerard Mosse, Bending to Catch the Light, 2009-2010. Oil on Linen, 56 x 42 inches. Courtesy Elga Wimmer PCC

The luminous, light-infused paintings of Gerard Mosse celebrate illumination as experienced within modernist painting and, more recently, as seen in the visionary art of such artists as James Turrell and the neon-light constructions of Dan Flavin. While Mosse does not imitate in any way the work of these artists, his paintings look to parallels of intensity in the way that color can be suffused with incandescence—to use catalogue essayist Carter Ratcliffe’s term for Mosse’s project in general. His essential structure—the establishment of vertical columns of color with hued highlights approximately one-third from the top of the bars—is repeated in paintings that suggest the minimalist appraisal in their bare forms. The verticality of the bars intimates the figure in simplified shapes, while the color seems to exist for itself, as a bit of joyous expressiveness justifiable on its own terms. Mosse, a long-time New Yorker, inevitably invokes the bare structures of minimalism, a movement that mostly happened in New York; however, he extends the austere language of his immediate forebears in the direction of the sublime.

The sublime must be mediated, or translated, into something visible—in Mosse’s case it is a redefining of color, as well as an understated exploration of perspectival depth, enabling him to create numinous fields of light, with the columns extending into an atmospheric background. Mosse achieves a mystical connection with light; as Ratcliffe puts it, “As color becomes light, existence illuminates itself.” The danger of working this way is that the existential experience of incandescence can lose focus, giving way to an inchoate haze. Yet Mosse eschews pure emotionalism in the form of color alone; there is a fineness of perception, rooted in perspective, and a sharp idiom of color, based in the tradition of New York art, that cuts through perceptual and conceptual materialism. Instead of vagueness or vacuity, what the viewer sees is a controlled experiment in light, in color, in form. Mosse, who originally came to New York from North Africa, is reinterpreting Flavin’s purist experiments with light within the medium of painting—oil on linen. This enables him to describe the moment when color becomes something as indefinable as light.

Gerard Mosse, Step Into Light, 2008-2009. Oil on Linen, 79 x 59 inches. Courtesy Elga Wimmer PCC
Gerard Mosse, Step Into Light, 2008-2009. Oil on Linen, 79 x 59 inches. Courtesy Elga Wimmer PCC

Bending to Catch the Light (2009-10) consists of three solid columns, two painted a reddish orange, and the third a dark gray. Up toward the top of each column is a brilliant yellow band of light that shines across the composition, toward the viewer. One thinks of these forms as sentinels, thicker versions of Barnett Newman’s zips; the yellow occurs in a hue of sharp intensity, directing the eye toward the supposed head of the figure. Behind the columns are other columns that are gray or pink in color; however, the three front forms have a penumbra of pink. These rows of rectangular forms easily exist as self-enclosed abstraction, but, at the same time, they do not reject the inference of figuration. Open Blue (2008) also has a set of columns ranging in color from a dark to a luminous blue, with the color becoming lighter as it mounts the second half of the form. The composition might signify a pure abstraction, or partially abstracted figures, or the world of the sea and its odd forms of life. Mosse’s real emphasis, however, comes from the way the light is caught and held as if it were a tangible entity—surely an achievement for the color the artist has applied!

In Step into Light (2008-09), the red sentinels, set on either side of a central dark-green form, seem to be forming a crowd around the differently colored figure. Mosse layers the colors many times to achieve the luminosity of his compositions, which exist as memories of light and its effect on the audience. Here shadow forms give the viewer the sense that the columns are hanging in mid-air; this small bit of trompe l’oeil makes the painting that much more interesting. Also hanging in the show are a number of black and white works, which reenact the pattern of tall columns emanating light near the top of their form. Throughout the show, Mosse is an artist of craft and intelligence; he refuses to give up figuration for pure abstraction, creating a contrast and tension that is memorable.