Mira Schor’s small, unframed paintings—oil on linen and ink on gessoed tracing paper—suggest the vulnerability of barely formed thoughts arising unbidden between waking and sleep. Hovering throughout her recent work are word- and thought-balloons that seem to have been conceived less with a view toward public statement than as products of an intensely private studio practice. The isolated words that appear in Schor’s cursive script—“suddenly,” “me,” “anonymity,” the last painted self-effacingly in barely visible, shiny black letters on a matte black ground—feel incipient, like shards of meaning pushing through pain. An intimist whose candor is akin to Emily Dickinson’s, Schor uses the sparest of means to signal, as the poet put it, “The loneliness / One dare not sound.” Words fail, and yet, seen as painting, they convey a great deal.

Balloons, those common graphic vessels, play several roles in this work, including containers of thought or speech, heads, clouds, mirrors and actual balloons. In two paintings, Cool Guy and The Professor (both 2008), they become comical caricatures wearing glasses. Their animated contours, executed—as is Schor’s painted handwriting—with single strokes, sometimes indicate electrical circuits. They also recall the humorous and variously signifying condoms of Schor’s earlier work. Sometimes containing a thicker texture where a thought has been overpainted—that is, silenced—the balloons are subtly nuanced (a quality lost in reproduction). Even wrinkles in the supporting surfaces convey feeling.

In the exhibition’s rebuslike installation, the paintings all assume roles in a quasi-narrative structure. One canvas features the word “suddenly,” which interrupts a tan ground; the empty balloon in a cool white painting that follows is ruptured by a bright vertical slash. The theme of intrusion repeats, each time as though without warning, throughout this sequence of works, which ends with ascending balloons, the last bearing the hopeful inscription, “a life.” Two paintings titled As a Cloud (both 2008), each showing a solitary balloon, evoke Wordsworth’s lonely, cloudlike wandering, though with no promise of that poem’s “crowd, a host, of golden daffodils.” The emotional perplexity of Schor’s work is both personal and general.

Through her writings and co-editorship (with the painter Susan Bee) of the feminist publication M/E/A/N/I/N/G, Schor has contributed greatly to the ever-vexed discourses on the relation of gender to painting and of the autobiographical to the political, and to other issues at the nexus of theory and practice. (Due out within the year is a book she edited of the writings of Jack Tworkov, and a collection of her own recent essays.) With this new body of work, it is as though Schor has relinquished her precisely articulated overview. Not that she has rejected it, but rather, consistent with her belief in painting per se, she has let the conceptual concerns of her long pursued project take care of themselves.

Photo above: Mira Schor: The Professor, 2008, oil on linen, 16 by 12 inches; at Momenta Art.