a profound affect
“Moffett’s work in contrast implies this sensation of terror through the use of color and the layering of separate emblematic states”
Courtesy of the artist.
Layered Language: The Paintings of Mark Moffett
By Rose Hobart
Layered, transparent, mesmerizing— these are the qualities that are most present in Mark Moffett’s new encaustic paintings. Recently showing at Broadway Gallery, NYC, Moffett’s paintings are some of the most challenging pieces on view as they navigate the line be- tween figuration and abstraction. The three pieces being exhibited are built up, glaze upon thin glaze of color, interspersed with linear patterns that feel diagrammatic and work discretely to create a rich panorama. There is a transformative, evolving quality to the works that keeps the viewer in a state of intangible suspense. They are works well suited to the digital age, where information over- load lends itself to the narrative of painting. Although you can clearly see the figurative elements, Moffett’s network of lines does not tell a linear story. Rather, they are more visual motifs, icons that lead us into new ways of seeing the original image.
Some of his works are very easy to absorb; one strong line marks the silhouette of a man, a woman, or an animal. In Drifter
, a deep, saturated red background is the backdrop for a Pangaea image (the supercontinent formed around 300 million years ago, that began to rift and drift apart around 200 million years ago—to eventually form the continents as we know them today). The image, superimposed over, among other things, a map- ping of major constellations, is presented in three stages of expansion, repeating like a fetus shape that alters and kerns slightly in space. It is quite literally drifting, seemingly floating in a void of lost and immeasurable time. This piece carries a profound affect that is poetic and mysterious.
In the case of Flèche, the diagram of a plant is presented like an image Moffett couldn’t erase no matter how many layers of information he threw at it. Set in a nebulous gray-green field, a variety of motifs vie for attention: swimming fish, organic clusters of the Ebola virus, a man steadying a woman in a handstand, a cartoonish skeletal figure in gold, a figurative fragment from what appears to be Duchamp’s Etant Donnés, and finally, an elusive cupid figure who appears to have launched an arrow—which rhymes with the painting’s title, Flèche, or arrow.
Taken individually or together, these elements seem to have no particular meaning, but they work with the image of the plant—like another kind of arrow, a plant shoot—in a way that suggests pollution, and coalesce into a haunting portrait of life’s tenacity under duress.
In another example, LL, you can see a woman, sensually curving her body like a dancer. She is positioned against a blood red background, surrounded by falling leaves. Upon closer inspection, you notice the form of a jellyfish, like a cage or a net, by which the ballerina is taken prisoner. And then suddenly a looming presence emerges—a frenzied skeleton, roaring like a maniac. The conflation of terror with beauty makes for a gripping psychological image. This piece plays on vanitas imagery, and resonates with such works as Hans Baldung’s Der Tod und das Mädchen, from 1517. Baldung’s painting portrays death as a grizzly old figure coming from behind, pulling a nude’s hair. Her face recoils in peril. Moffett’s work in contrast implies this sensation of terror through the use of color and the layering of separate emblematic states: the woman is poised, the jellyfish entraps, and death dances a mad jig. Here death is interwoven and is more an idea of what death is.
Although it isn’t always possible to step away from Moffett’s work and negotiate with it as a consolidated statement, it is clear that his purview is stretched to encompass irreconcilables, or at least opposing charges.