Gordon Moore

New York

at Betty Cuningham


It’s tricky to mix abstraction and illusionism. The abstract painter’s fealty to materials and process is fundamentally different from the mimetic painter’s goal of naturalistic depiction. Some years ago, Gordon Moore found a language that merges key elements of each idiom’s vocabulary—most significantly, abstraction’s nonobjective line and representation’s cast shadow-and his latest refinements of that pictorial patois have yielded his most articulate works yet.

On view were 10 paintings dated 2011—six at approximately 82 by 57 inches and four measuring 40 by 30 inches. They are made primarily of latex paint using white and a range of earth colors and neutralized reds and greens, with additions of ground pumice and isolated passages of oil. The compositions have a blocky, tectonic quality. Areas of thinned color are set off or boxed in by contrasting opaque sections and illusionistic fragments; wiry painted lines playfully cut across the fields, their paths often reflected in shadow. A larger painting, Pin has a chromatic sweet spot where a hard-edge, sky blue stripe-part of a looping, switchback outline rambling around the painting’s lower-right quadrant-crosses over a central patch of warm gray; it glows. Generally, though, the work’s drama derives from a highly finessed graphical confusion, as if the artist had obscured what the painted mark signifies.

The central element in Untitled (Crank) is a yellow-gray rectangle, listing to the left, interrupted by a white, angled line and its soft-focus shadow. Nearby are trompe-l’oeil areas that appear to be collaged fragments of black-and-white photos of similar line-and-square motifs, as well as a spindly, circuitous strip of dark alizarin. Contributing to the multiplicity of spatial references, a washy reddish field in the bottom third of the frame is flecked with pumice grains and ruptures the painting’s pictorial space with a heightened tactility.

The artist employs photography directly in 13 smaller works spanning 2007 to last year. Ink and sometimes gouache are added to soft-focus, low-contrast photographs taken by the artist. Several of the works are abstractly atmospheric, while others include bits of recognizable imagery. A broken umbrella’s mangled, floodlit ribs feature in two untitled, 16-by-12-inch compositions (2008), in which drawn lines mimic the umbrella’s sculptural contortions. In each work, an area of precise horizontal stripes (one blue and white, the other green and white) extends from the center to one corner.

Over the years, Moore’s work has relied on a grid-based organization of space, a strategy that has allowed him to shuffle multiple picture planes like a magician with a deck of cards. Perhaps the artist is gradually exhausting, or tiring of, such sleight of hand. It was almost absent in some of the best of the small works on view, such as Untitled (Noire), in which segmented ink lines enclose a vaguely headlike shape and tentatively meld with an angular shadow-line. A rectangle of white and violet gouache in the upper right corner seems extraneous, and prompts the viewer to wonder if the grid, having served the artist well, might soon be expendable.

Photo: Gordon Moore: Pin, 2011, oil, pumice and latex on canvas, 82 by 56¼ inches; at Betty Cuningham.