Jazz-minh Moore, Michelle Call Me, 2010
Courtesy of the artist
Since the figurative revival began to gather steam in the 90s, a new generation of artists—Mickalene Thomas, Bénédicte Peyrat, Nina Chanel Abney, and Julie Heffernan to name a few of my favorites—have been turning the genre on its head, injecting a post-pop, baroque, even funkadelic sensibility into their works, which, while not overtly political, hijack the medium to explore social, sexual, and racial themes, in the tradition of Judy Fox and Dotty Attie. Jazz-minh Moore is a burgeoning quasar within this posse of singularly talented woman who do battle with coercive forces through their enthralling brand of portraiture.
Unlike Elizabeth Peyton’s facile style, or Yuskavage’s derivative over-the-top adult fantasy (à la Frank Frazetta) Moore’s work has the depth of Lucian Freund, the violence of Francis Bacon blended with a kind of vehement sexiness—a fully assumed girl-talk swagger. Instead of engaging her subject laconically, with easy, atmospheric brushwork and a complicit, referential wink in the direction of glamour and celebrity (rife with a kind of osmotic longing), Moore’s protagonists are head-on engaged with the disaster otherwise known as life. In her New York solo debut at LyonsWier Gallery, her subjects, all women and for the most part fellow artists, are grappling with irreconcilable forces—creativity and longing clashing with constraining, normative processes. What Moore encapsulates in those faux-breezy instants-vérité—paintings like Crepuscular and Bite Me, two acrylic and resin on wood panel works, is the disconnect between reality and dreams, or between raw desire and ambition.
“I try to capture the confusion of odd, passing moments,” says Moore. “And so my paintings are full of secrets, confusion, and unfiltered emotion.”
What Moore manages in the process of rendering what she calls “these precious instants of vulnerability” is a tour-de-force of oil portraiture. The expressions she captures are taut, awkward, tortured, and yet her subjects are singularly beguiling. Forgoing utterly the traditional axioms of female figure painting, Moore has in some ways re-invented the genre—her characters aren’t merely beautiful, accomplished women struggling with obstructive forces, they are forces of nature coming together for a solstice party.
“I’m a picker, always looking to salvage those precious interludes when a sensitive psyche marks a brief pause in its viscerally competitive march,” says Moore. “I’m fundamentally ambivalent about the idea of success.”
Jazz-minh Moore, Going Going Gone, 2010
Courtesy of the artist
It is in that sense that I understood Moore’s breakthrough Nadia series, in which she seals her portrait with abstract side-panels; exclamation marks denoting various natural and artificial forces: Hurricane, Swamp, Williamsburg, Intersection, etc. In achieving this alchemy between pure undiluted portraiture and pure abstraction (for the side panels don’t represent an expedient displacement of the background, they are separate entities, or objects), Moore has gone about the business of highlighting the primal, cyclical connection between woman and the world’s own variegated eco-systems, and the connection we all share with nature. Wedding the individual to the underlying energies which surround us and perhaps steer us along various pathways, in a nod to what is the very essence of Fauvism, these triptychs convey what Wordsworth, discussing the essence of natural beauty, dubbed the “the sense of things more deeply interfused.”
Moore likes to inject vocabulary—not narrative—into the structure of her works, verbatim extracts from phone messages or the written works of her subjects (conversations, diaries, etc). Again, this process, akin to collage even if the words are in fact painted, is more indicative of a kind of gestalt approach, one which seeks to render the routine as a revelator of deeper, intimate truths. Moore’s impasto technique is flawless, and she combines the most brazen brushstrokes with a unique ability to blend bright colors. From a purely visual standpoint, the effect can be amazing to behold. Going, Going, Gone, a self-portrait painted on a gessoed birch panel, seems to call out at the viewer in an orgy of flamboyant orange, titanium white, and sienna, as the artist herself stares out with a sullen rage from between stark architectural strokes. In this perfectly balanced image, the artist figure is contained (and appears almost to be captured) within the linear sub-urban background, and her obvious fury is clearly a response to the stifling background, from which she appears poised to lunge out at the viewer. How this small-scale, supercharged panel, coursing as it does with a barely-controlled frenzy, manages to come together harmoniously is a testament to Moore’s disconcerting ability to manage color and composition over small surfaces.
The same mastery of form is apparent in Moore’s miniatures, like her Faux Check Fruit series, which feature her signature grapefruit-faced female sex object over whimsical bank tender—thus continuing her Rousseauian exploration of the individual’s co-option by a financier-run, market-determined society. In this series, the recurring motif of the female figure holding a grapefruit is a metaphor for our indentured status, and the systemic corruption of the ideal, natural soul which results.
Noah Marcel Sudarsky grew up in France, Switzerland, and New York. He is a freelance writer and correspondent based in NYC. His articles and reviews have appeared in The NY Press, The Village Voice, The Onion, New York magazine, Salon.com, Citimag, Publisher’s Weekly, The New York Times, and other publication. firstname.lastname@example.org all articles from this author