On ViewCharles Moffett
Seed, Stone, Mirror, Match
September 4 – October 18, 2020
New York City
Lily Stockman introduced the 17 oil on linen paintings of her third presentation with Charles Moffett (her first solo show under gallery representation there) with the title Seed, Stone, Mirror, Match. In front of the paintings, “mirror” seems the most immediately incongruous: the canvases could hardly be said to return our visages, their opaque surfaces suggesting more common ground with the tangible, sensory stuff of life than with illusion or ethereal reflection. But the happenstance, practical valence of such handheld things as “seed,” “stone,” and “match” seems precisely the point. The works on view were made in Los Angeles this year, following a period under quarantine during which Stockman produced drawings in colored pencil that feature flowers she found near her Los Angeles home and Mojave Desert cabin, labeled below with a whimsical script. Also during quarantine, Stockman found the show’s eponymous objects, the press release tells us, in her garden trug, ordinary gifts left by her toddler daughter, their creative potential unmasked by the endless opportunity for contemplation that staying home affords. As Zadie Smith put it in a book the artist mentioned in conversation, “Talking to yourself can be useful.” Under deceleration’s magnifying glass, our deliberate politics of self-care is extended, in Stockman’s hands, to the odds and ends that surround us. The artist’s meditation on these circumstances in the Moffett paintings takes her work in a new direction, while still tethering it to her familiar language of softened geometric forms.
Each painting—excluding Millard Falls (2020) with its periwinkle tri-lobed wing—features a centrally-placed bisected oval form of varying roundness. Most approximate a coffee bean; fewer (as in Kennedy Meadows ) a neatly linear sans-serif U. On the whole, these forms have swelled and folded in on themselves since Stockman’s 2018 exhibitions in New York. The new paintings read less as transom-topped portals to spatial elsewheres than as presentations of things, however abstract, in the here and now. These primarily symmetrical compositions build up in layers of rectilinear ground in peachy pinks, sandy browns, and pale yellows of varying density and tone, with brush marks visible particularly at the ends of strokes. With its modulated, creamy yellow field, New Dahlia (2020) is exemplary in this regard, recalling the luminous egg tempera of Italian quattrocento panel painting. Subtle imperfections and color transitions, such as the purple to white border in New Dahlia, create a gentle flow that puts Stockman’s work far from from the hard edges of predecessors like Anne Truitt or Carmen Herrera and from contemporaries like Sarah Crowner or Alice Tippit. Indeed, the works evidence proud manual labor wrought with a clear sense of concentration. As material things they rebuff the sharp slickness of digital presentation. Seeing them in person pays off.
The paintings’ shift in perspective from looking through to looking at extends to a bird’s-eye view. This is particularly germane given the artist’s familiarity with open expanses of land: she grew up on a farm in New Jersey, and later lived in Joshua Tree, California. Stockman’s connection to nature suggests a matrilineal orientation. The paintings’ hues relate to those of dahlia tubers she and her mother grew from the same seed but on opposite coasts this spring (cuttings from these were tucked in a vase at the gallery, facilitating comparison), while the artist has spoken fondly of Gertrude Jekyll, a grandmother of landscape design associated with the Arts and Crafts movement in England. As Jekyll lost her eyesight she reportedly saw the flower plots across her garden commissions as blurs of color, influencing her to use differently-hued blooms as transitional borders. Borders as chromatic markers function as transitions in Stockman’s paintings, too—most obviously from one color field to another, but also as fluid transitions among the material and sensorial associations the paintings conjure, from the biological, erotic, and botanic to the cosmological. Lest we get too far from the tangible world, however, Stockman places small circular punctuation marks along her canvases’ central axes. These snap us back to physical reality. Like Richard Artschwager’s blips or Roland Barthes’s punctum—his “accident which pricks me”—these quiet moments of compositional stasis seem to forge direct relationships with our own personal bank of poignant memories, such as a roving speck of dappled light or a dandelion seed taken up by the wind. Taking my cue from the conceptual and experiential dimension in which the paintings operate, then they are, perhaps, more akin indeed to mirrors than I originally allowed.