Thursday, 22 October 2020

Begin-Again: Jeremy Moon at A-M-G5

Elements of the following text appear in a piece published by freize, 'Jeremey Moon Takes a Rectangle for a Walk ', link in previous post.

'The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the determines and limits the arrangement of whatever is inside it'. That was how Donald Judd summed up the art form in 1965. And yes, the rectangle’s the big fact of painting. For all sorts of reasons–  practical, perceptual, conceptual – it’s the format it pretty much always reverts to, almost by default.

On show at Glasgow’s A-M-G5, 15/73 (1973), the last painting made by Jeremy Moon before his untimely death, finds the artist poking and prodding at the format. Made up of what looks like four pieces of coloured card arranged in a neat pile – tidy, yet relaxed enough to have their overlapping corners and edges showing – it’s a work which treads a playful line between being conventionally ‘rectangular’ and unconventionally ‘shaped’. 







Moon was one of the few British artists of the 1960’s to consistently explore the possibilities of the shaped stretcher. Yet his shaped canvases always in some way refer back to the stability of the rectangle. His circles deny it, his triangles and stars partially admit or allude to it; his unique Y-shaped and dart-wing paintings explode and unfold it, like dismantled takeaway boxes or paper aeroplanes. Even conventionally rectangular canvases show Moon’s fascination with the rectilinear boundary, the frame: paintings like the Tate’s Hoop-La ([1.]Tate Collection, 1965), for example, in which an arc of blue circles and partial-circles bite into the picture’s edges, generating a sense of perpetual motion.















 In 15/73 a series of rectangles are effectively ‘stacked’. Or rather, a series of fictive rectangles which are in reality a series of brightly coloured L-shapes and just one legitimate cardboard-coloured rectangle in the centre. We read this ‘neutral’ central card as an emphatic blank– almost as if the ‘content’ of the picture has been redacted. But then the image flips, and it seems that what’s been ‘blanked’ is actually being framed. The natural boundary of the ‘frame’ – the border which separates the ‘painting’ from the world around it – is subtly, yet insolubly problematized. The eye is halted at each corner, unable to complete an uninterrupted circuit of the perimeter. There is no one frame, no one ‘painting’ inside the frame, no central event. It’s a complete visual object, we might say, according to the formal rhetoric of the day. And yet it’s also not. There’s a palpable sense of illusionistic depth– even if it’s the shallowest of depths, that between layers of paper.


One set of contradictions follows another. The stack of paper/card suggests preparation, of materials gathered and ready, and yet the work is done. Absolutely resolved under its own circular logic, we still sense that another card could be drawn from the deck, the game of pictorial ‘snap’ continuing indefinitely. Completely sound, it nevertheless feels like Moon’s just about to get going: reinforcing the notion of thresholds, endings and beginnings as a major thematic concern in the work, the brinkmanship of dreaming-up and making, venturing.


Co-organised with Ivory Tars (a curatorial project comprised of Glasgow-based artists Rachel Adams and Neil Clements), the presentation follows A-M-G5’s directive to encourage close-readings of single works. 15/73 is the sole painting in the show, with four vitrines of exploratory studies and ephemera in support. This concentration on a single work could’ve proven difficult, as Moon’s practice is so much about exploiting a certain momentum of pictorial logic across works and exhibition hangs. Happily, what this most ‘limited’ selection demonstrates is the sustained attention his individual works merit and reward on their own (in a regular Moon presentation 15/73 wouldn’t necessarily be a show-stopper), while slyly complementing this most maquette-like painting with a sampling of studies and models.



The model for 15/73a postcard-sized object roughly stapled and taped-together with the final colours worked out in pastel – is very close to the finished piece. But in executing the full-size canvas Moon expanded the ‘blank’ further into the blue, bringing it closer to what we might infer as the general centre of the work (even though this means the blank has actually moved farther to the left). It’s a small shift. But it makes the piece a whole lot more decisively about the blank card-coloured rectangle (and about visual disruption/illusion) than the more formally well-behaved, more straightforwardly ‘abstract’ sketch. Paradoxically, the finished work more-closely resembles a preparatory stack of card than the actual preparatory stack of card (a characteristic double-bluff).



Process and result were obviously discrete things for Moon. But that’s not to say that works like 15/73 aren’t absolutely about process and play. ‘Making’ is consistently part of their meaning, as much as completeness, resolution. Moon's comfortable with imperfection– so long as the idea, identity and general execution is strong he’s not neurotic about pristine finish. They’re finished enough. In 15/73 most of the angles are off. The orange ‘L’ is noticeably thinner at the top, the green corner at left not quite ninety-degrees (and it’s not due to warping over the years, photos of 15/73 from Moon’s 1976 Serpentine retrospective confirm this was ever so [3.]). It’s as if the cards have shifted slightly, been almost imperceptibly disturbed. These tiny irregularities give it warmth and vitality; suggest that it hasn’t quite settled, that life goes on around it and in it. In some ways he anticipates Raoul de Keyser [2.] (who gave up a career in sports journalism for painting relatively late in life, rather in the way Moon gave up an executive career in advertising). Though Moon would never have tolerated de Keyser’s alternatively hesitant or blurting touch, they’re united by the tangible sense of an art that’s made its way out of life’s mess and clutter as both escape and affirmation.


No matter how baldly abstract 15/73 may be, real-world illusions and allusions still hold. Fictive shadows generated by simple colour interactions suggest the barest presence of light and oxygen between the ‘cards’. And while the painting might hover on the wall, like some gravity-defying apparition, it still feels as if we’re looking down on a desk-top setup, subject to the laws of physics. With its table-top jump in scale, 15/73 is almost a return to Chardin’s portraits of children absorbed in the building of playing-card castles: eloquent meditations on the relative 'size' and stability of ideas and images. Flipping between two and three-dimensions, and reversing Chardin's balance of blankness and depiction,15/73 – Moon’s deck/house of cards – slyly references similar notions of play and precariousness, chance and construction, not to say the whole question of painting as a means of understanding the world with, through and against a series of rectangles. 






It’s with and against the rectangle that Moon’s paintings articulate themselves, really. He seems to have had an acute sense of the rectangle/the rectilinear frame as a miraculous thing, full of possibility. No rectangle-sceptic, in many ways he was one of the format's greatest devotees. Indeed, he would always return to it after periodic spells working with other shapes, his faith in some sense restored. He was haunted by the rectangle, almost enchanted by it in an unabashed way that US contemporaries like Robert Mangold, Kenneth Noland, perhaps even Stella, were not (that comparisons with the history of smaller-scale easel painting can still be made with Moon which cannot be made with other large-scale formalists is significant in itself). Popping hard-edge minimalism’s solemnity while never seeming jaded, Moon makes us consider the rectangle constantly anew. Works like 15/73 in turn make the world itself seem more pliable: experience more, or rather differently, more-variously articulable. 





In a happy coincidence which means nothing at all, 15/73 can be re-arranged to 1735: the date of Chardin's first card-player, Boy building a house of cards (above).