New York

Richard Mock

Brooke Alexander Gallery

Richard Mock revises Picasso’s experiments in surrealism from the ’30s and ’40s. It’s possible to see him as casting himself in the role of conciliator between Picasso’s outrageous aggression and Carl Jung’s outrageous suggestion that Picasso, on the evidence of the 1932 Zurich exhibition, was a schizophrenic; in other words, Mock tries to reconcile the world-disturbing, dangerously alienating sexual/creative drive of the artist with the continuance of the community/audience, needful of harmony and defensive of its own pathology.

The Demoiselles–like African masks of Mock’s heads may be his first picassoid mannerism, but a formal metamorphosis nails down a later period. Mock’s displacement of body parts, breasts transmogrified into bladders, heads extruded out of arms, and especially eyes ripped out of facial context are genetically determined by their freakish forebears, Picasso’s paintings from between the wars. Woman in an Armchair, 1937, with her bustline shoved up to her right shoulder and both eyes to one side of her nose, is representative. The ubiquitous two-eyes-in-profile in Picasso’s work meant simultaneity—just another word for authorial omniscience, the remote control by gaze that provides the theme of his many pictures of artists and models.

Mock too takes on the conquistadorial eye and the wrenching out of position by sexual desire of subject/object. Pride of place is given to the eye, painted as an island nowhere near the peninsula of the face. But Mock presumes this politics of gender and the power play of looking as an intermediate state, and with emendations. In Surreal Woman Watching a Gorilla Catch His Banana, 1982, the female is allowed not only to return the glance, but presumably to initiate looking. This hardly overcomes Mock’s disjunction of her body, which is the more paralyzing because her head looks like a hand also reaching for that banana; which is to say, the head is an ideogram for the replacement of action by thought (since heads can only grasp cognitively). It’s a cosmic disjunction. Receding in the single eye depicted is a vista of watchers, which I list only partially as “viewer watching painter watching woman watching herself watch the banana.” However, Mock wishes to throw off the anxiety of distanced involvement, to travel from projection to introjection. He provides views of approaching consummation in There’s a Fire in My Heart—in Four Parts, 1982, oscillating between an internist’s, a lover’s, and a metaphysical plumber’s. Postcoital, the Listening to the Whisper diptych, 1982, matches a panel of internal organs with one of a hand held to an ear, compositionally harmonizing inside and out. The ear, less aggrandizing than the eye, takes over.

Mock’s line dominates. It weighs as much as Picasso’s, but isn’t brutal, as his is. Brushwork and color are not as tyrannously banded within it, and line and mass have a more adult understanding with each other. There’s the same swollen hachure kept to the background—until the climactic moment of There’s a Fire . . . , when it slings webs that enwrap, fingering everything in programmed integration. For all its look of patented, coin-of-the-realm, fervid expressionism, Mock’s work shelters a calculated rewrite.

Jeanne Silverthorne