Gerard Mossé was born in Casablanca, but he has lived in New York for decades–since the late 1980s. This is his first show at Marlborough Gallery and represents a leap for the artist in terms of public interest in his work. However, he is well known here–this is his seventh solo show in the city. He has been painting sentinel figures for years–upright rectangles suggestive of a standing figure with a thick bar of light set into the upper register of the form. Mossé’s achievement, increasingly evident in this fine show, is to give body to an essentially visionary insight, in which lucency animates a relatively simple structure, so that both the motif and the effect of the painting stand as recognitions of some unknown territory–both close to us and far away. It is impossible to determine for sure the reality of these presences, which offer a sublime that is moving primarily in the face of belief, not fact. But something larger than the sum of these paintings’ effects influences the audiences who come to visit–something mysterious, but evident nonetheless.
The forms themselves, exquisitely installed in the very large 57th Street space, can be seen as a series, but most recently Mossé has been able to expand small details into larger ones, using different colored backgrounds and shapes to add complexity to the work. There is enough difference from one painting to the next to support the notion that he is not repeating his gestalt–much in the same way it is said that Rothko is not repeating his basic form. In the 2018 painting entitled From Myself to Beyond the Screen of the Sky, at 78 by 118 inches the largest painting in the show, three dark-bodied sentinels occupy the forefront of the painting, with smaller, gray-bodied forms dissolving slightly into the background’s similar color. The front three figures display a bar of light where the face would be; they are surrounded by a thin halo of light. The figures in the back present a purplish-pink aura around a deep red central bar. Visionary, in some ways existing completely outside human awareness, the figures seem to witness and protect. It is remarkable how specifically Mossé has given them form.
The tension existing between a dimly perceived–but actual!–spiritual life and the imagistic necessities of making a real-life painting animates Mosse´’s body of work. It can be said that these works hover in a space halfway between earth and heaven. In the painting From the Wildness of Stars (2018)—the title is from a late Wallace Stevens poem–the dark copper figure is slightly curved, with a bar of bright luminosity, again in the upper third of the form, where a person’s face would be. The vertical shape is framed with a broader band of light, giving proof to our intuition that this work is not abstract at all, but rather a version of a spirit as it might inhabit us. Mossé is not an outwardly religious man, but over the years he has cultivated a place of increasingly worthy inhabitation, in which the lyric vies with the worldly in ways that are memorable (he has also described, in conversation, regularly experiencing moments of intense epiphany). Despite the contrast, there is no sense of a struggle or a contest; rather, the forms watch over us, making sure that we do not stray too far from a radiant existence. To bring such an insight into play now, at a time when materialism more or less has completely taken over, is a considerable achievement.
With Burning Patience (2012-16) consists of two sentinels of a deep, dark brown, with the obligatory bars of light and thin halos of pink and orange surrounding the forms’ bodies. Next to them are three small shapes–two blue and one pinkish-purple shapes, square or rectangular and placed at the same level of the bars. A deep blue violet background is also evident. The dark bodies emanate the “burning patience” noted in the title; they convince us of Mossé’s need to communicate a resonance that is holy without being tied to a particular religion. But the transcendence is there; it is available in every work in the show. A much earlier painting, Zohra’s Voice (2005-09), shows us where much of the more recent imagery began. It is a series of rectangles, gold and a dull tan, framing a vertical bar of white light; the entire arrangement of the image is slightly off-kilter, pitched at an angle. The center is luminous beyond words and attests to the ongoing wish of the artist to realize, in genuine form, that which we cannot give words to.
Transcendence is the specific goal of this show; and Mossé achieves it. We are in real need of a spiritual reality that would inform our ethics in a public and private sense, but the traditional terms for it appear to be worn out. We can only hope for new forms and new words that will point us in the direction of a transcendent view–a station in which our thoughts and emotions start to move toward elevation. One is hard put not to use religious terms to describe this show, especially at a time when such terms seem lost to convention and need to be taken up again. To his credit, Mossé has originated a way of seeing that uses abstraction–the vehicle of light–to redeem not only the figures we see, but ourselves. For those of us who find such a point of view necessary as we move across time, this is a very high achievement,
Gerard Mossé at Marlborough Gallery
Nov 29 2018-Dec 29 2018
40 west 57th street, NYC.
Photographs provided by the gallery.