On ViewBridget Donahue
March 20 – May 8, 2021
The title of Monique Mouton’s current show at Bridget Donahue, Inner Chapters, evokes something of a trance: the state that a novel creates when the plot accelerates but the end is not yet in sight, when the gamble of picking up the book has paid off. There’s a comfort there—in the meat of a story—that allows the reader a certain passivity, each line tugging the eyes along gently. Mouton’s work has a similar effect, and true to its title the show opens onto a dense painting, Caves, a sheet of brushy watercolor on top of another paper washed in brown and purple. There is a sense of lost context, of wanting to glance at the other works before returning to this one, as if anything but time and sustained looking could resolve the picture.
What is unsettling about watercolors on the large scale that Mouton favors is the speed at which they become legible. Since the pigment soaks into its paper support, Mouton’s marks are flatter than any made in acrylic or oil, and the slight tooth of the paper diffuses any ridge created by the brush. The hand is evident everywhere in these paintings, but it is evident only in the image it produces—there is no dimensionality, no sheen to investigate. The familiar game of leaning in from the edge of an image and glancing across it to reveal variations in its surface doesn’t apply here, so the viewer is launched across the gallery at a faster pace. Though there is nothing to assemble, the roughly cut edges of Mouton’s paintings do have a sort of jigsaw sensibility, and the urge to connect edge to edge and color to color propels the viewer from work to work. It is a productive state to be in, circling the gallery and consulting works three or four separate times. The paintings become like clouds, shifting minutely with each glance, constantly building and losing form to the air. It is fitting that they are all undated.
Soft Wait is a collision of color: a cut sheet of earth red on top of a synthetic purple. It is less like a stage curtain parting than a cliff catching the light of some polluted sunset. The whole picture rests on a thin pen line that flirts with the paper’s cut edge. If not for that line, the entire composition would become a background. Similarly, the weight of Venus rests on a crude line of painted shadow that borders the actual shadow of a cut paper shape, giving confusing depth to strokes of blue and green. And, in the massive Pine Needles, a central vertical stroke provides a gravitational pull to bubbles of yellow and pink, swirls of blue, and speeding bullets of ink. It has as much visual data as a crucifixion, but it resolves into airy marks that have more in common with O’Keeffe’s Southwestern scenes.
The standouts are two long frames each holding a bisected painting, with significant distance stretching between the distinct parts of each image. In the first, Love Quotient, a pool of blue turns a sharp corner into a Munch-like landscape. But between the ripped papers there is a pink expanse. That gap, and the way it plays with the distinction between positive and negative space, calls to mind the lingering traces of Pangea, the urge to take scissors to world maps and reassemble the continents so that Brazil fits snugly into the Western coast of Africa. In tearing a landscape across such a border and allowing the edge to transform illusion to topography, Mouton provides us a slower moment that is refreshing in her dizzying game of edge and mark.
The wood of each frame in the show is uniquely treated, and Inner Chapters is boxed into rottenstone on maple, a dark gray surface so close to black that its slight reflection of light seems almost an illusion of depth. Walking to the gallery’s southern edge, the image unfolds from left to right. The first paper element is like a windswept marsh while the second has the faceted appearance of a geode. In the fading afternoon light, the frame catches glints from windows across the street and the fire escape’s shadow progresses slowly across the work’s white mat. It prompts a look at the window and its AC unit, silent now but sure to start humming in the latter half of the month. Slowly, the gallery itself begins to invade the sequence of Mouton’s painted forms, the warped wooden floors like sand dunes between the pictures.
Mouton’s tensile marks encourage a kind of associative looking. Boxed in by their frames, they send the viewer searching, and seem to change in the meantime. Their rips and cuts all point outward toward the viewer’s realm, but their marks and color are deeply absorbed in a singular plane. It is as if Mouton has channeled the sensation of turning a page, of realizing—for just a moment—that the story is just ink on thin paper. But the paper slides comfortably back into place, and the illusion takes hold again.