Body of Work

Contradiction

At Artamo Gallery, through July 9.

Reviewed by Beth Taylor-Schott

I’ve never realized how much I identify with whichever piece of
art I happen to be standing in front of. Apparently, there is a
deep, primitive part of my brain that does not understand visual
illusion and that sees the whole work-of-art-as-window-on-the-world
thing as nonsense. This part of my brain takes each canvas not just
as an archetypal skin, but as my skin, and furthermore, as my
body.

As I mentioned, I hadn’t realized any of this, or not, at any
rate, experienced it consciously, or even viscerally, until I
walked through a gallery hung with Jack Mohr’s works. I began to
realize it then because of how seriously those works messed with
that very part of my brain.

In one predominant compositional type — examples are “Big Red,”
“Eruption 1,” “Metal Blades,” and “Vertical White” — the work of
painting has quite clearly been performed across most of the
canvas. The paint is opaque, thick brush strokes are at times
evident, and the surface has been given body through the
introduction of sand and other texturizers. In the center of this
worked canvas appears, as if torn into it, a jagged, painterly,
lusciously edged wound. What does the canvas reveal by rending
itself thus? The glint of metallic mesh, seeping out like a
cyborgian undergirding that the painting process has tried in vain
to cover over. Nearby, paint-encrusted twine seems to produce the
same outline as clotted blood running along a sharp edge.
Elsewhere, nails protrude through the canvas from the back, so that
if you put your hand out toward the paint — a basic urge we must
always have, but usually ignore — you might prick your finger.
These are not the sort of nails anyone has ever been crucified
with, surely. No, they are smallish, neat, industrially produced
nails, and yet the discomfort they produce seems incommensurate
with their size. Standing in front of such a painting, one begins
to wonder if a nail is ever really only a nail.

Did I mention how beautiful all this was, when you can get the
aesthetic part of your brain to kick in and notice the shiny
surfaces, the rich colors, and the prismatic impression created by
abstractly applied chiaroscuro? I don’t think I shivered looking at
the works — not visibly, anyway. But more than once I made an
involuntary noise, something like a small, half-distressed
sigh.

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