Restless Focus

Jack N. Mohr, the German-born and bred, and now Santa Barbara-based artist, is one of those certifiably restless creative souls whose peregrinations in different media and directions can breed confusion in logic-seeking art-watchers. A graphic designer who followed his fine art muse, he has worked with ceramics, painting, and then some. At the moment, you can find his mixed media sculptures at the Fielding Institute, alternately funky and mock-rational pieces with materials such as burnt naiis, cord, and lacquered steel.

Meanwhile, down at the Delphine Gallery, one encounters a very different aesthetic in his show, Flowers of the Night. Here, a series of acrylic paintings settles into a determined, serial pattern. Plant life is the immediate, ostensible subject of his paintings, with stalks appearing in mannered, dancing designs against dark backdrops, with flowers in tender, teasing stages of blossoming.

We quickly ascertain that Mohr’s concern is less for botanical life than variations on visual themes, and the courting of metaphor. The six pieces in the “Stage l–VI” attempt an allegory of the life cycle, from youth to maturity, spring to nocturnal green. “Flaming Dances” are tall, vertical pieces in which the wriggling stalks take on the amorphous forcefulness of flames.

In art about variations on a tautly defined theme, little differences take on disproportionate importance. Two of the best pieces in the show establish their own rules of order within the show’s umbrella concept, even though they’re clearly of a piece. “Stormy Nights” is a horizontally pitched composition in which a line of plant stalks bend as if in a choreography of line, with shy white blossoms spreading their tentative wings. “Glamorous Night” has a pattern in which stalks fold themselves over from both sides of the picture toward the middle, a centering gesture that gives the image strange poise.

Mohr’s nocturnal flower paintings travel with a deceptive lightness. They’re pretty horticultural pictures on one level, but also taken out of the usual context, the better to strive toward a private context of the artist’s own scheming.