John L. Moore Drawings: Keeping the Invisible Secret

Invisibility, weather, smoke and mirrors–elements, personally referent to displacement, anonymity, loss, and the resiliency of the human spirit come together in vibrant gestures through the hand of John L. Moore.

In 1985, Moore moved from his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio to New York City. At the time, social tensions intensified by Reganomics and the newly named AIDS virus had landed New York in the throes of cultural warfare. Artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and Adrian Piper were on the front lines and by revisiting strategies employed by earlier feminist artists, they confrontationally presented their own identities to make space in the art world for marginalized gender, racial, and ethnic groups. Yet, while their critique broadened whom the institution accepted, it inadvertently created the expectation that one perform the very "otherness" by which they were separated.

In contrast to this contemporaries, Moore, by working expressionistically in traditional mediums on canvas and paper, would circumnavigate this trap. Rather than perform his subjectivity, Moore would allow it to inform his work by way of a kind of visual code. Art historically, the use of images as symbols was established by Cubist collage. Picasso makes a fragmented drawing of a violin. However, rather than representing someone's violin in particular, the form becomes symbolic of any violin whatsoever. In this way, although the image of the violin may originate as a singular object in the mind of the artist, it becomes a multitude of objects through unique associations of each viewer. Moore, calling on the historical narrative of his own African American subjectivity, creates a visual lexicon of persecution and marginalization. Mirrors, branches, fire, water, and weather–Moore draws the symbols he associates with slave lynching and the slave trade's "middle crossing" within the racially gated grammar of artistic modernism. In result, as the properties of oppression and otherness are not limited by time or culture, neither are the interpretations of Moore's work, nor the criteria used to judge it, limited to an African American narrative.

While concerned with the horror of slavery, Moore's work contemplates the onlookers, the witnesses, those lost between worlds, individuals invisible to history. Figures are represented as ovoid mirrors that often appear in conversation or in transit.

Like Phillip Guston, as Moore's work has matured, its visual quality has lightened, tending increasingly towards cartoon. Moore's hand is loose, his lines energetic, filled with bright strokes of primary color. In fact, you get the feeling that he makes his work in a kind of celebration. And indeed, the fact that by luck or circumstance any of us with a history touching slavery, war, holocaust, and so on, are here at all is certainly something worth celebrating.

Yet however lighthearted on the surface, Moore's mirrors have a complicated sense of interiority. They rarely reflect–but rather deflect, exaggerate, and fall away ad infinitum. They are made opaque with blood, transparent with chaos, and obscured with blackness. Sometimes they are voids. As conventional knowledge claims, mirrors can lie. And certainly, we are more than the reflection of our surface.

In Gilles Deleuze's words, "we are composed of multiplicities." He distinguishes this from the concept of diversity. To quote John Rajchman's explication, it "is not to imagine that we have many distinct identities or selves...[as] we never wholly divide up into any 'pure' species, races, even genders–that our lives can in fact never be reduced to the 'individuation' of any such pure class or type...we each have our 'minorities,' our 'becomings.'"

Moore allows for these becomings and multiplicities through an exploration of invisibility. Assuming an individual has no singular form, an individual can have multiple relationships to the space he inhabits. Moore engages in an exploration of space. Using streams of precipitation, fire, trick mirrors, and the illusion of hydraulic force, Moore debases directional logic. As any children's story will point out, there is a certain power to the properties of invisibility. In a sense, to be invisible is to never disappear. The nameless passengers of the trans-Atlantic crossing and silent witnesses of southern lynching, rendered invisible by time and lost records, persist in our consciousness, their experience of "otherness" integrally part of our own.

CB [Carly Busta]

John L. Moore
Recent Works: 1999-2006
New England School of Art & Design
Suffolk University, Boston, MA
Sept 28-November 3, 2006