Written by David Cohen
“The other's entire being is constituted by its exteriority, or rather its alterity, for exteriority is a property of space and leads the subject back to itself through light.” EMMANUEL LEVINAS
In the same breath, Gerard Mossé, limner of luminosity, upholds and violates modernist strictures. “The same stroke,” I should perhaps have written, except that something about Mossé’s brushstrokes, something kinesthetic in his touch, consistently feels respiratory. A work by Mossé pulsates, eliciting in the viewer a centeredness that corresponds to an almost pulmonary, or diaphragmatic, rhythm as the eye savors a back and forth, a “push-pull,” between surface and symbol.
Whether in the medium of painting or drawing – and his works in each contain the essence of the other, or at least materials associated with the other – Mossé dwells on and penetrates the support, trading with equal intensity in the actuality of the physical plane and the illusion of depth. Put another way, he makes paintings that are also pictures: his are works that revel in their own sensuousness while going about the business of transporting the eye to another place.
As a composer of images, Mossé is unabashedly figure-ground. He nests his characteristically binary forms – menhir-like and figural, naturalistic and abstract, living and timeless – in “family of man” constellations that recall a sculptural group by Barbara Hepworth or an installation of works by Anne Truitt. Their jostle and swagger sometimes gives them a life-like quality, other times precarious tilt can put viewers in mind of renaissance towers (Bologna, San Gimignano) that are at once communal and competitive. In either case, they stand apart from the receding and receiving ground around them.
And then there is the light. The glow, the glare in Mossé is his signature device in which color and glaze are deployed not merely to define light through subtle contrast of complementary hues (the chiaroscuro of Georges de la Tour, the luminous ingenuity of William Trost Richards) but to represent light with aggressive independence, deceiving the eye into thinking there must be some actual source of illumination encased within the picture, or behind it, bright enough to pierce both canvas and pigment. Even when we know that’s not the case the fantasy persists. Nor are there representational devices like halos or emanations denoting rays of light (Van Gogh, Joseph Stella) but instead patient, deliberated upon layer-upon-layer of chroma that collectively achieve pure dazzle.
Even without knowing that before Mossé committed to a career in painting he was an accomplished, collected and exhibited ceramicist it is tempting to think of his trademark rectangles as vessels, as forms that carry form. They are at once the source and the object of light. The light that scorches their surface emanates from within.
Maybe Mossé is postmodern abstraction’s answer to Morandi. Both artists are the servant of servants in their strange, obsessive relationship with ubiquitous, mute, banal yet insistently individuated and subtly personalized containers. Their vessels are, literally, familiar: they are a family, and family to their depicter, and like family more other, more unknowable, than the remotest of strangers, precisely because they are the closest to ourselves while yet remaining acutely mysterious.
Perhaps light, as well as animating Mossé’s forms, tenderizes his relationship with them, ameliorating their otherness. Without light the forms would be even more unknowable, but with light their very unknowableness is illuminated.