Urban Studies

So many things astonish the eye in John Moore’s paintings, not the least of which is the rich palette of internal contradictions. His mostly urban oils are realistic and seriously observed, yet a playfulness often pokes through: in a wildly tangled lamp cord, or in shards of kitschy pastel-painted glass amid mirrors and circular shadows. His cityscapes—of Boston, Philadelphia, Paris, even the aging steel town of Coatesville, Pennsylvania—embrace their subjects’ energy and their industrial decay; yet a sensuous streak runs through them: in the swelling leaves and luminous blossoms of a tree or a luscious purple iris. Sometimes blunt and brooding, they are also amazingly delicate and subtle in their tonal shading and composition.

While Moore’s paintings “have been pervaded by a distinct stasis and calm,” writes Debra Bricker Balken in the catalog essay for his current exhibition at the Locks Gallery in Philadelphia, “these characteristics belie an undercurrent of anxiety, of a mutable built environment that has been ravaged and worn, subject either to neglect, demolition, or change, the ongoing processes of either urban turnover or decline.”

Moore has been the Monroe and Edna Gutman Professor of Fine Arts and chair of the department since 1999, having held similar positions at Boston University and Tyler School of Art. His paintings are held in museums across the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Asked what draws him to urban landscapes, Moore responds: “The visible evidence of change. The way that things have been altered by time or circumstances or economics. I like the very specific evidence of all of this human activity but also the sense of time having passed through—the visual character, the interesting sort of juxtapositions. Things that just look like they have a kind of resonance because of some kind of contrast.”

Though the individual cityscapes are rendered in careful detail, Moore sometimes begins a painting in one location and then, when he moves to another, simply incorporates a new tree or building from his latest vantage point. “Since these paintings take a couple of months, it’s inevitable that your ideas change in the process of working on something,” he says. “I think it’s partly solving a problem, but it’s also just answering the question: ‘Well, what if this?’” —S.H.

John Moore: Survey 1967-2005 runs through April 8 at the Locks Gallery, 600 Washington Square South in Philadelphia.

©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 03/03/06


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