New York

John Moore

Hirschl & Adler Modern

John Moore’s recent paintings add up to a revelation of sorts. Esthetically speaking, they show the critical bum rap that contemporary Realism is getting whenever it is accused of being overly dry, narrow, or matter-of-fact. To emphasize this point further, I think that even the most determined detractor of this style would have been hard put to state a case after seeing this show.

Moore’s Augusta, 1985, a panoramic view of a small Maine town on a sunny summer day, is a painting so thoroughly steeped in the sheer pleasures of both life and art that it immediately enchants the eye and upon contemplation touches the heart. With the world as his focus and his own sophisticated sensibility as his guide, Moore in this and other paintings directs attention to the psychic core as well as the poetic urgency of his vision. Moore works in a crisp and specific mode of rendering that is dependent strictly upon direct observation; although he allows himself the liberty to embellish a scene he is representing, this is something he does mainly for pictorial reasons, to stabilize a section of the complex compositions he favors. But the reason doesn’t matter. One of the most telling aspects of these paintings is their convincingness, a quality that is almost overwhelming in Augusta. Does or did Augusta ever look the way that Moore has painted it? The answer is hardly at issue; what is is the persuasive appeal of the image. Its source is the artist’s emotive approach to illusionism, the way he imbues the formal structures of his painting with feeling. In Augusta it is found in the deep and dynamic compositional space, which metaphorically thrusts the viewer inside the landscape, forcing him or her to share and savor a delightful moment that has been captured forever.

In Rices Mill Road, 1984–85, Moore presents a rather prosaic scene consisting of a partial foreground view of a factory building and a background made up of modest family homes. This painting, which measures 90 by 144 inches, is truly monumental in its scale and in its integrity as a comment on life and a statement of art. The refreshing honesty of the subject is echoed, again on a metaphorical level, by the startling fullness of the even light that ripples across the surface. A similar perception dominates the response to Boston Common View, 1985. In this painting, Moore provides an unforgettable image of one of the most spectacular elements of today’s cityscapes, the confrontation between the old and the new. An imposing glass-and-steel skyscraper towers over a row of red townhouses. A man and a woman are shown in a park to the foreground; she appears to be walking away from him into a wintry twilight. The more you look at this painting, the more the politicized element of the buildings recedes and the human situation starts to pique your curiosity Who are these people. and what do they mean to each other? Moore’s keen sensitivity to the mystery of the prosaic side of life fortunately allows no easy answers.

Ronny Cohen