New York

Carrie Moyer

Canada

Carrie Moyer’s newest series of paintings builds on her previous works, which combine abstract forms and swathes of color with overt citations of radical social movements. Yet the works here, devoid of raised fists and images of Emma Goldman, also mark a significant departure for the New York–based artist. Moyer has moved further into the realm of free association, allowing her political references to hover suggestively rather than spelling them out. Biomorphic shapes evoke the “central core” imagery of ’70s feminist art at the same time that they resemble simplified Rorschach inkblots onto which we may project our own interpretations.

The imagery of The Stone Age (all works 2006), for example, alludes to ancient female figurines such as the Venus of Willendorf, but its shimmering veils of brilliant red and magenta additionally refer to the poured pigments of Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis. Moyer’s hard-edged, matte surfaces contrast with iridescent flows of paint that shine like glaze on earthenware. Indeed, many of these paintings speak the language of ceramics; Vitrine is constructed around vibrantly layered pours contained inside vessel-like outlines. In Shebang, two pale, kissing forms are placed next to a looming figure that seethes with color, its cracked surface as luminous as raku ware. Framed by a dark shadow, the figure flickers like a flame, shape-shifting to recall a Max Ernst woman/bird hybrid or the drooping bulges of Betsy Damon’s 7000 Year Old Woman, 1977. Its crust of black glitter becomes ominous, as its hooded silhouette also unmistakably summons associations with photos of Abu Ghraib.

Works such as Trophy, with its simplified, almost symmetrical form, demonstrate Moyer’s strong design sense. In fact, the artist is an experienced graphic designer—she co-founded the lesbian agitprop duo Dyke Action Machine with Sue Schaffner in 1991. The paintings’ sumptuous surfaces, meanwhile, are the result of Moyer’s complex methods of fabrication. Often working on the floor, she rolls, stipples, mops, and handworks her paints over raw canvas until it becomes hard to discern the order in which the layers were introduced. The musical instrument of Gimcrack, for example, has strings—thin red rivulets—that plunge into a hole which is equal parts Picasso guitar and O’Keeffe pelvic bone. Its multiple strata—by turns abstract and figurative, flat and glossy—suggest that we are looking back through time, as if art history has been compressed into a compilation of key moments laid in overlapping planes. As much as these works investigate the feminist iconography that celebrated matriarchal prehistories, then, they also revel in the modernist qualities of paint—its specific weight, viscosity, and transparency.

Given the current resurgence of interest in feminist art, Moyer’s work reads like something of a manifesto. She argues for the ongoing relevance of feminism’s diverse legacies, excavating and then updating the traces of goddess worship often neglected in contemporary critical reassessments. The obliqueness of her allusions does not make them unreadable—in fact, like inkblots, their openness only intensifies their psychic power. These paintings are hardly subtle—witness the campy use of hot pink, chartreuse, and glitter—but they demonstrate a fresh discipline that strengthens Moyer’s usual fiery intensity. With their emphatic vision of how a politics of contemporary abstraction might operate, these are invigorating, even thrilling works from an artist increasingly confident in the range of her powers.

Julia Bryan-Wilson