Barbara INDEPENDENT, THURSday, JUNE 1, 2006
A Body of Work
Contradiction at Artamo Gallery, through
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
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.