Whitehot Magazine

John L. Moore: Obsessive Memory at June Kelly

John L. Moore, 2 Red Mirrors, 1999. Acrylic, charcoal on paper, 38 x 50 inches. Courtesy of June Kelly.

John L. MooreObsessive Memory: Paintings and Drawings 

June Kelly Gallery

May 7 through June 29, 2021

By ROBERT C. MORGAN, May 2021  

John L. Moore’s current exhibition at the June Kelly Gallery is one of the truly remarkable, most contemplative exhibitions currently on view in New York. There are several reasons why this is apparent. Moore’s oval-obsessed, elliptical imagery could be interpreted as a stellar happening less about science fiction than an astral state of mind, the kind of mind-set that we may recognize but do not always encounter. While I would hesitate to call his work expressionist, I propose that these paintings signify or, better, hold forth a kind of rational mystery, a paradox between rationality on the one hand, and mystery on the other. In addition, I find these paintings deeply cognizant of what Moore is attempting to put forth. There is a certain poignancy in this work despite the force so purposefully retained within the act of painting. 

John L. Moore, Jimi, 2012. Oil on canvas, 80 x 67 inches. Courtesy of June Kelly.

Having briefly interviewed the artist one afternoon in the gallery, I learned that he was a trained parachutist during his time in the military – a series of events he recalls with a certain heroic ambiguity. The process of going from air to land, feeling the torsion air suspension in-between was, for him, an unforgettable experience. As we spoke, I continued to look at his paintings in an attempt to conjure their point of view. Although Moore was never an astronaut who explored outer space, it would seem likely that he should have been. At least, this is how it felt as I ruminated on the space within the powerful brushwork in his paintings. There was no doubt that Obsessive Memory was clearly the apt title for this show. 

The gallerist, June Kelly, rigorously curated the selection of paintings and drawings on exhibit. The brilliant permutations contained in these works allowed viewers to hypothetically redeem paintings, such as Blue and Orange (2008), and transform them into an interpretive venture. They offer a revelation in terms of what we identify as space, whether it is our bodies or beyond the galaxy that exists outside planet Earth. 

The most frequent shapes in these paintings are Moore’s oval or elliptical shapes, some painted black, while others held forth as linear apertures containing their own space. At one time, earlier in his career, these shapes were meant as literal symbols of humanity. As Moore’s work began to progress they became more complex. Other phrases began to take hold, for example: “…falsehoods, the denial of truths, and the search for meaning.” Moore further says: “… image-protagonist-ovals are carriers of missing information suggesting a more troubling placement of our own conflicted histories.”  However, the most common reference eventually became “the mirror.” Here the artist shifted away from psychology into other forms of meaning in which we observe ourselves more directly, beyond confinement.

On the south wall of the gallery, there is a group of earlier paintings in black, white, and gray, where the ellipses are present. One, titled Lundy (1997), reveals smaller black ovals carefully spaced throughout the canvas that may suggest entering into a universal cosmos. In addition to the paintings, Moore’s drawings also include ovals. For example, in a large-scale work on paper, Untitled (2000), the artist reveals a complex play of linear forms, in which the ovals are drawn with acrylic and charcoal on paper, layered dynamically in relation to one another. 

John L. Moore, River Red, 2003. Oil on Canvas, 80 x 67 inches. Courtesy of June Kelly.

Whichever way you want to interpret these forms, they are spellbinding when seen to relation to the swift brushwork against which they are placed. Here I would consider paintings, such as River Red (2003), Blue and Orange (2008), and especially Black and Blue (2001), the latter suggesting the front wheel of a bicycle, which might be an homage to Duchamp’s readymade from 1913.

In any case, the procession of ovals or ellipses is prevalent throughout the exhibition, clearly a thematic reference, identified with the artist. The swift, ultra-dynamic brushwork as a layering or grounding for these forms plays an essential role in these works. 

Together these omnipresence ellipses give this exhibition its unarguable strength, its vision and substance. To lend a symbolic space to the human form serves as a counterpoint to the galaxy we inhabit. These paintings and drawings are signifiers of a rarified consciousness that needs to be realized in order for this planet and its inhabitants to come to terms with who they are. This message is unmistakably within the forms that John L. Moore is showing us. WM


Robert C. Morgan

Robert C. Morgan is an educator, art historian, critic, poet, and artist. Knowledgeable in the history and aesthetics of both Western and Asian art, Morgan has lectured widely, written hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published monographs and books, and curated numerous exhibitions. He has written reviews for Art in AmericaArtsArt NewsArt Press(Paris), Sculpture MagazineThe Brooklyn Rail, and Hyperallergic. His catalog essays have been published by Gagosian, Pace, Sperone Westwater, Van Doren Waxter, White Cube (London), Kukje (Seoul), Malingue (Hong Kong), and Ink Studio (Beijing). Since 2010, he has been New York Editor for Asian Art News and World Sculpture News, both published in Hong Kong. He teaches in the Graduate Fine Arts Program  at Pratt Institute as an Adjunct Professor and at the School of Visual Arts.


view all articles from this author