Katy Moran, Face, 2013, acrylic on found painting, 20 5/8 x 26 3/4".

Katy Moran, Face, 2013, acrylic on found painting, 20 5/8 x 26 3/4".

Katy Moran

Modern Art

Katy Moran, Face, 2013, acrylic on found painting, 20 5/8 x 26 3/4".

Katy Moran has described her paintings as “figurative.” Yet she has also stated that they are arrived at “not by consciously representing something but by more oblique processes,” and the resulting works have in general been less representational than one would imagine. In fact, the word fugitive might be a better descriptor, as these new objects create a sense of lost narrative. There is no direct referent in each work; Moran instead draws on constructed or imagined narratives as the work evolves. In the past, her brushwork has created the impression of a fluid dynamism, resembling painterly abstraction but hinting at figural elements. More recently, she has added collage to her method and has sometimes worked on found surfaces, adding further complexity to her elusive paintings.

For example, I Love You and I Like You, 2013, incorporates fabric and paper elements in a painting that at first glance seems to depict a mountain in the background and a cave-like architecture occupying the foreground. The pattern of a scrap of colorful striped material, such as might be used for a dishcloth or pillow, is replicated in the top corners with acrylic paint, suggesting a stripy “sky” behind the rumpled cloth of the “mountain.” The soft, puffy, undulating surface of the fabric itself evokes the contours of a landscape. Another swatch of patterned fabric in this work features little pink bird silhouettes on a dark-blue ground, and from this, together with pieces of canvas painted with triangular and star shapes, Moran creates a complex interwoven space. That is, instead of a layered painterly space, there is now the different kind of physical layering that collage affords; it is a cut-up and cutout, the result of an organic and additive process. In addition, in many of her recent works, Moran juxtaposes large forms against smaller ones to suggest scale, employing thin lines of paint that act like drawing to add another spatial logic. This particular kind of complexity is new to Moran’s work, and the result is the replacement of the fizzy energy of her gestural brushwork with a deeper spatial intensity. Closer in approach to her older paintings, with its lashings of white and creamy paint, Face, 2013, comprises acrylic on a found painting and its frame.

In spirit, most of these new works have a quality akin to the early Surrealist-inspired Abstract Expressionists, such as Arshile Gorky. But an artist like Gorky used automatism to break from tradition; Moran, perhaps more modestly, seems more interested in shaking up the nature of her picture making and pictorial organization while still anchoring it in a hint of reality. The critic Barry Schwabsky recently articulated a dilemma facing contemporary painting: How can the medium respond to the recent trend of evaluating art on a broader level than that of the individual work, of finding the value “in the project, not the object”? From this perspective, Moran might be said to offer a compelling project about working in the gap between narrative (or description) and abstraction. Yet it seems that each individual work does offer its own particular creation story. Hence, it’s in the committed viewing of a single painting, rather than in searching for some overarching project, that we are closer to taking a journey along with the painter. And that is why we look.

Sherman Sam