Santa Barbara INDEPENDENT, THURSday, JUNE 1, 2006

A Body of Work
Contradiction at Artamo Gallery, through July 9.
Reviewed by Beth Taylor-Schott

I’ve never realized how much I identify with whichever piece of art I happen to be standing in front of. Apparently, there is a deep, primitive part of my brain that does not understand visual illusion and that sees the whole work-of-art-as-window-on-the-world thing as nonsense. This part of my brain takes each canvas not just as an archetypal skin, but as my skin, and furthermore, as my body.

As I mentioned, I hadn’t realized any of this, or not, at any rate, experienced it consciously, or even viscerally, until I walked through a gallery hung with Jack Mohr’s works. I began to realize it then because of how seriously those works messed with that very part of my brain.

In one predominant compositional type — examples are “Big Red,” “Eruption I,” “Metal Blades,” and “Vertical White” — the work of painting has quite clearly been performed across most of the canvas. The paint is opaque, thick brush strokes are at times evident, and the surface has been given body through the introduction of sand and other texturizers. In the center of this worked canvas appears, as if torn into it, a jagged, painterly, lusciously edged wound. What does the canvas reveal by rending itself thus? The glint of metallic mesh, seeping out like a cyborgian undergirding that the painting process has tried in vain to cover over. Nearby, paint-encrusted twine seems to produce the same outline as clotted blood running along a sharp edge. Elsewhere, nails protrude through the canvas from the back, so that if you put your hand out toward the paint — a basic urge we must always have, but usually ignore — you might prick your finger. These are not the sort of nails anyone has ever been crucified with, surely. No, they are smallish, neat, industrially produced nails, and yet the discomfort they produce seems incommensurate with their size. Standing in front of such a painting, one begins to wonder if a nail is ever really only a nail.

Did I mention how beautiful all this was, when you can get the aesthetic part of your brain to kick in and notice the shiny surfaces, the rich colors, and the prismatic impression created by abstractly applied chiaroscuro? I don’t think I shivered looking at the works — not visibly, anyway. But more than once I made an involuntary noise, something like a small, half-distressed sigh.