IN THE STUDIO: DONALD MOFFETT
by Steel Stillman**
Show is up at Marianne Boesky Gallery until October 15
Donald Moffett was born in Texas in 1955 and moved to New York twenty-three years later. Like many artists who came into their own in the late 1980s, he leaned heavily on juxtapositions of text and image in his early work, appropriating mass-media tropes and redirecting them. But unlike the deconstructionists who emerged a decade earlier, analyzing images and taking them apart—Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, and Richard Prince, for instance—Moffett was bent, or so it seemed, on an activist course, using images to make things happen. In 1987, he wheat-pasted posters he made bearing an orange-and-black target, a black-and-white Ronald Reagan headshot, and the tagline “he kills me” on buildings in lower Manhattan. He Kills Me, today arguably his best-known work, led to significant chapters in Moffett’s career: he became a founding member of the AIDS-activism artist collaborative Gran Fury (1988–93) and, shortly thereafter, a coprincipal, with artist Marlene McCarty, in the design firm Bureau (1988–2001), which produced unorthodox projects for corporate clients, arts organizations, and groups seeking social change.
Moffett’s current New York show, “Any Fallow Field,” at Boesky, is his reflection on whether rural settings and experiences can provide relief from the 24/7 clamor of contemporary life. It contains extruded paintings, canvases that are merely primed before being coated in layers of tinted, translucent resin, and resin-coated landscape photographs. The paintings and photographs are punctured and sometimes shaped by patterns of perforations derived from shotgun blasts and microscope images of plants. All the photographs and some of the paintings hang directly on the wall, with the remaining paintings being incorporated into pared-down contraptions made of found timbers painted white. STILLMAN Despite the sculptural quality of the contraptions, you persist in calling them paintings. Is that because painting for you isn’t simply a matter of materials, genres, and procedures but is instead a way of thinking? MOFFETT If artists want to dig into the deepest part of the past one hundred fifty years of art history, then they must grapple with painting. I’m interested that you put your question in terms of thinking. What often goes unsaid in the critical discourse is how productive and illuminating your thinking and learning can be when you’re actually painting. Of all the activities I’m engaged with around the studio, whether reading, paying bills, or trying to learn something new, the best thinking occurs—oddly, weirdly, freakishly—when I’m bent over one of my paintings.
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