Mira Schor once described her use of handwriting as something that “would allow me to paint paint.” In “Paintings from the Nineties to Now,” a small survey that ranged from her signature word and punctuation pieces to recent cartoonish narratives, Schor revealed what “painting paint” involves. In her 2009 book A Decade of Negative Thinking, Schor—a writer as well as a painter—prescribed a “modest painting” that emerges not from supersized career goals or a desire for mastery but from the sheer enjoyment of the medium, with its attendant rigors and ambitions. Her own practice aspires to the small, intimate and personal.

Schor’s word paintings are characterized by linguistic playfulness and elasticity. A complex synergy arises from the conjunction of language and abstract gesture. Allusions to variously hued skin, voluptuous folds and juicy orifices merge with the words and punctuation marks—loaded, humorous and poetic by turn. War Frieze IX (1992), a multipart, 10-foot-long section from a 200-foot-long work concerning the Gulf War, demonstrates Schor’s early fusion of words and paint, as well as the importance to her of feminism, which has informed her practice into the present. Issuing from a breast on one end and a phallus attached to an ear on the other, a red liquid stream outlined in squiggly pubic hairs spells out the word “undue” in cursive. The pink, impastoed, fleshlike ground bears the word like a tattoo. In the Gulf War context, “undue” could describe excessive force; but, given Schor’s predilection for double entendres, it also implies “undo,” as milk morphs into blood, the nurturing breast undone (presumably) by the weaponlike phallus. In Sign (2005), the title word is interlaced with Cézannesque swatches of green, beige and yellow paint. Schor’s art-historical roots are manifested in the work’s references to cubistic landscape, graphic design and, in the overall composition, a languorous Matisselike nude.

In a number of paintings from 2008–10, Schor turns from calligraphy to quirky stick-figure self-portraits quickly sketched with a paintbrush. The body parts seen in earlier works yield to depictions of the artist in her trademark glasses reading, walking and writing. She also ponders, as evidenced by thought balloons containing Gustonesque horizontal textlike lines. As always, attention is lavished on painterly process and formal manipulation: wet on wet application; transparent, tinted washes; bleeding marker lines; crusty accumulations of pigment; ghostly pentimenti; errant brushwork. However, in Blank Slate (2007) and (2008), bereft of figures or text, the thought balloons become small abstractions, executed in luscious strokes of moody grays, sooty whites, murky ochers and shades of black. The abandonment of explicit imagery or words and a reliance on the expressiveness of the paint itself to communicate leave us searching for clues, meditating on the paintings’ secrets. It appears as if Schor is finally, truly, “painting paint.”I’m Fine

Photo: Mira Schor: Blank Slate, 2007, oil on linen, 16 by 12 inches; at CB1.