New York

Monique Mouton, More Near (VII), 2015, watercolor, charcoal, chalk pastel, and pencil on paper, 69 1/2 × 63 1/4". From the series “More Near,” 2015.

Monique Mouton, More Near (VII), 2015, watercolor, charcoal, chalk pastel, and pencil on paper, 69 1/2 × 63 1/4". From the series “More Near,” 2015.

Monique Mouton

Monique Mouton, More Near (VII), 2015, watercolor, charcoal, chalk pastel, and pencil on paper, 69 1/2 × 63 1/4". From the series “More Near,” 2015.

Although she’s exhibited regularly over the past decade on the West Coast (most often in Vancouver, where she studied at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design), Monique Mouton only recently received her first solo show in New York, her home now for several years. The slight awkwardness of the exhibition’s title, “More Near”—you shouldn’t need Strunk and White to tell you that standard usage would be “Nearer”—sat well with the works themselves: eight large, framed paintings on paper and six small, eccentrically shaped panels, three of them installed on the floor. The ostensible linguistic slip up, a kind of speed bump on the road to comprehension (I kept reading it, for some reason, as “More Noir”), works similarly to the way the paintings posed as familiar (“near”) even though you could hardly miss their eccentricity.

Mouton likes to paint with thin, washy layers. The veiled translucency of the color gives it a sense of ethereality, while the clunky irregularity of the jigsawed forms bespeaks a dumb materiality, an opaque, bodily density and inertness. What’s surprising is that one doesn’t feel that the color “clothes” the support, one material atop the other; these analytically distinct aspects of the painting are experienced all at once, as a single manifold. Composition is often elided. For instance, one of the wall pieces, A Neutral, 2015—the title again a telling one—had the shape of a distorted plus sign and is vaguely reminiscent of a tree trunk with three stumps of limbs branching off it; the work was painted with a few pale, caressing vertical strokes of nameless translucent hue on a white ground, a bit of black smudging one corner.

The paper works, all but one belonging to the series “More Near,” 2015, were mostly on irregularly cut sheets; their fluid, floaty fields (mainly rendered in watercolor, but also in chalk pastel, gesso, pencil, tempera, ink, and charcoal) incorporated numerous small incidents. Fluidity, unpredictability, and polydirectionality were emphatic qualities, except in More Near (III), 2015, whose simple orange-above-blue composition conjures a radioactive sky above the ocean; its static quality makes it less engaging than its sisters. Numbers six and seven have vigorously marked edges encompassing more nebulous activity. The paper works and panels felt complementary, in that the former put the accent on the pictorial without neglecting objecthood, while the latter are very distinctly objects but without eschewing pictorial qualities. The irregularly shaped, fragmentary planar works of Richard Tuttle and Blinky Palermo are obvious points of reference, but if there’s a presiding precursor spirit hovering over this art, it’s Moira Dryer, for her delicate way with translucent color and eccentric shape. In fact, at times I wondered how Mouton, using oil paint, managed to elicit dry, washy effects reminiscent of Dryer’s preferred casein.

Vancouver-based artist Eli Bornowsky has written thoughtfully about the “powerfully reticent” quality of Mouton’s work. What makes this near-oxymoron particularly apt, but in a surprising way, is that the power is not in the artist’s effort of restraint—one feels the muteness and neutrality come quite naturally, even almost casually despite the evident care in decision-making, rather than through a determined struggle—but rather in the effect of that reticence on the viewer: The paintings contain activity or movement that is difficult to discern, forcing the perceptual apparatus into a state of heightened alert. The apparent vulnerability of paintings placed on the floor, eliciting in viewers the desire to keep an eye on them to avoid mishap, is just part of this. Mouton’s concern, as she puts it, is with “an attention not just to the nuances of the paintings, but to the subjective act of looking.” These works are like mirrors, their subject not so much the artist’s consciousness as the viewer’s own.

Barry Schwabsky