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Don’t I Know You?: Katy Moran at the Wexner Center

Jeff Regensburger Jeff Regensburger Don’t I Know You?: Katy Moran at the Wexner Center
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This winter has seen The Wexner Center for the Arts host Six Solos, an exhibition of – you guessed it! – six up and coming artists. In an interesting departure from many group and themed shows where works by different artists share common space, Six Solos provides each artist with their own gallery. This creates what amounts to – right again! – six solo exhibitions.

While this allows for perhaps a more focused reflection on each artist I’ll admit up front to missing the serendipity and dialogue that comes from works in a shared space. I’ll also admit to finding the process of reviewing such an exhibition nearly impossible. The fact is that all six of the artists have provided work that is thoughtful and thought provoking. Each would be well worth the thousand or so words I typically expend on these reviews.

Erwin Redls light installation FETCH animates the Wexner Center’s signature “grid” in a way that perfectly utilizes the existing architecture. Megan Geckler’s site-specific installation Spread the Ashes of the Colors re-imagines the lobby with such colorful bravado that anything occupying that space henceforth is bound to look cold and drab. Gustavo Godoy and Tobias Putrih have both constructed works that help tear down the art world’s fourth wall, while Joel Morrison takes on the role of artist as cultural mirror (figuratively and literally); reflecting our attitudes and examining our beliefs.

That said, it was the work of the painter Katy Moran that brought me back to the Wexner Center again and again. Her best paintings occupy a place that is familiar, but also foreign. They’re like the stranger you’re sure you’ve met; a form of visual deja vu; or perhaps a fantastic story told in a language you only half-understand. They give the sense of seeing something that’s both brand new and been there all along.

Let’s start at the beginning though. Ms. Moran paints smallish, abstract paintings. Her compositions are often constructed in a way that highlights some form of the figure/ground relationship. Sometimes the figure is an amorphous shape, roughly centered on the canvas, and sometimes the figure is a series of brushstrokes hovering above the others.

Put another way, she’s not one of those “let’s flatten the picture plane” abstractionists. And while she’s not engaging abstraction as a formal exercise, she’s not working abstraction as pure expression either. Hell, it might not be abstraction at all. I’m not even sure at this point. Just know this; there are these things in many of her paintings, these figures, and they hover just on the edge of the physical. They’re almost objects, nearly modeled, close to being solid, but not quite. They’re too real to be abstract, and too abstract to be real. That’s it. The point is, she’s painting…well…something, and painting it quite well.

Not only that, she’s doing it in a way that reaches back across time. There’s an almost savant like quality to the way the Ms. Moran can replicate the mood and palette of movements gone by. Captain Beaky and his Band (I and II) are prime examples. They present what can perhaps best be described as Italian Renaissance paintings seen through a kaleidoscope – or maybe a blender. Volestere is similarly evocative, though its reference point is more aligned with Manet’s late still lifes (I’m thinking specifically of his asparagus paintings) than the Italian Renaissance. Moving along we see hints of the proto-Abstract Expressionism of Gorky, the full-on Abstract Expressionism of DeKooning, and the manic mark-making of Cy Twombly.

What’s perhaps most interesting though is the expressive nature of Moran’s brushwork. Each stroke comes off as a singular event. There’s a confidence in her painting too, with many brushstrokes appearing to stand as they were originally laid down. If there’s a lot of second-guessing going on here, it’s not obvious to this viewer.

This technical virtuosity and understanding of the history of painting belies what are arguably very personal works. When asked about the titles of her paintings, Ms. Moran said they were like entries in a diary, suggesting that the stories she’s telling carry a personal meaning.

All of this leads back to the balance between the familiar and the foreign. The references to known styles along with almost recognizable abstraction goes a long way toward explaining how Moran’s work can strike such a chord of familiarity. We see something we know, something we’ve encountered before, but we’re not clear what. It’s ambiguous, but not unsettling. Dreamlike is perhaps the right word, but with a touch of calculation too. Katy Moran clearly knows what she’s doing, even if we’re sometimes only vaguely aware.

Katy Moran is part of the Six Solos exhibition currently on view at The Wexner Center for Arts. The exhibition runs through February 13 2011.

Image info:

Katy Moran
Captain Beaky and His Band II
Acrylic on canvas
23 5/8 x 19 3/4 inches
2006

Katy Moran
Volestere
Acrylic on canvas
15 x 18 1/8 inches
2007

Katy Moran
Wassabi without Tears
Acrylic on canvas
15 x 18 1/8 inches
2007

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