John L. Moore
(Cleveland, Ohio, 1939 - )
John L. Moore was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1939. (1) He had his first formal encounters with art around the age of 12 or 13 when he began taking summer art classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Moore continued to take art classes during his high school years, though at the time he did not intend to pursue a professional career in art. When he graduated from high school in 1958, Moore enlisted in the Army and served three years in the 101st Airborne Division. Around 1962, Moore accepted a job with General Motors where he worked for the next eleven years. Moore began attending classes at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland in 1967, transferring to Kent State University in 1969. He graduated with his BFA in 1972 and continued on to receive his MFA in 1974. While taking classes, he continued to work full-time at General Motors.
Around 1973, Moore began teaching art classes at Cuyahoga Community College and the Cleveland Museum of Art, and in 1974 he joined the Education Department of the Cleveland Museum. Moore pursued a variety of activities while working at the Cleveland Museum, including teaching, organizing a film series, and curating exhibits. He also continued to create and exhibit his own works. In the summer of 1985, Moore became restless for a new environment and took a six-month leave of absence from his job to visit New York. He returned to Cleveland in January, staying only long enough to resign from his job and pack, then moved back to New York.
Once settled in New York, Moore completely committed himself to his art career. He did, however, continue to teach, serving as Artist in Residence and Visiting Professor at numerous colleges, particularly in New York and Ohio. During the late 1980s, Moore also served on a number of panels for choosing and installing public art and he earned several fellowships in painting from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Recently Moore has been awarded the Cleveland Art Prize (1995) and in 1996, he served as chair of the College Art Association panel on Abstract Painting at the annual meeting.
Moore first entered his work in a group exhibition around 1975 and received his first one-man show in 1983. Subsequently, he has exhibited widely in both solo and group shows. Since the late 1980s, Moore's work also has received regular review in such well-known publications as Art in America, ArtForum, and the New York Times His works can be found in private collections across the United States as well as in many corporate and public collections including the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the New York Public Library, Drug Emporium, Cincinnati Bell Telephone, and Kaiser-Permanente Medical Centers. He is currently represented by the M-13/Howard Scott Gallery.
Moore's working method is improvisational. Though he roughly outlines his paintings on the canvas before beginning, he makes no other preparatory sketches or drawings; he generally uses his works on paper to further explore a finished painting, particular motif, or compositional element rather than as studies for his paintings. What little preparatory drawing Moore does is generally lost in the process of painting, scraping, repainting, and blending which is his primary method of composition. Moore uses a restricted palette of shades of black, gray, white, red, and blue, though yellow also has begun to appear in his more recent paintings. Moore also reuses a particular vocabulary of abstract geometric shapes, most notably ovals and clusters of ovals. The titles of his paintings often are autobiographical, containing the names of specific places, events, or people that were important to him, (2) though some titles are simply descriptive, designating where or how a work was produced.
In a recent essay, Charlotta Kotik of the Brooklyn Museum outlined the evolution of Moore's compositions since his move to New York: "Moore's work from the early 1980s was imbued with the legacy of Cubism and geometric abstraction. Varied shapes of rectangles and triangles were well-suited to the artist's urge to construct compositions which became associated with the urban environments of Cleveland or New York City." (3) Kotik pointed out that over time, organic, ovoid shapes, which had been present around the margins of Moore's compositions, began to move into the center of the paintings and dominate them. By the early 1990s, these black, gray, and white ovoids had become the focus of Moore's works. Around this time, Moore also changed the orientation of his paintings from horizontal to vertical, exploring in paint a format common to his works on paper. Moore's most recent works emphasize clusters of oval shapes, some solidly painted and some merely outlined, set against the painterly backgrounds characteristic of his works.
Critiques of Moore's works generally focus on the tension created between the smoothly painted, geometric shapes which occupy the foreground of his works, and his gestural, expressive backgrounds. Though the geometric forms contrast distinctly with the backgrounds, their brushy outlines serve to blur that contrast along the edges and create the impression of forms floating in an abstract space where depth continually fluctuates. (4) This play between surface and depth, figure and ground is a central component of Moore's works. (5)
Narrative is another element often cited in connection with Moore's abstract works. His geometric forms suggest both elements of landscape, and anthropomorphic forms, particularly heads. It is, in fact, the anthropomorphic quality of his ovals that has suggested comparisons between his works and those of Philip Guston. These ambiguous hints at figurative elements in his compositions provide Moore with a means to subtly address his social and personal concerns. In addition, Moore uses particular formal elements of his works to convey meaning. His continual use of the color black, for example, is both his way of addressing the negative social connotations of the color (racial, funerary etc.) and an exploration of new ways in which to use the color inventively. It is by actively communicating through both the formal and narrative elements of his works that Moore achieves his stated goal: "I don't want them to be pictures. I want them to be experiences."
(1) Biographical information has been compiled from the following sources: New York Times, Friday, November 24, 1989; Molly Sullivan, Contemporary Abstract Painting: Resnick, Reed, Laufer & Moore, brochure of an exhibit at the Muscarelle Museum of Art, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1991; Charlotta Kotik, "John L. Moore: Work of the Decade", ARTNOW: John L. Moore, brochure of an exhibit at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, March to June, 1996; artist's vitae and other information on file, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, October, 1996. The following reviews of Moore's work also were consulted: Michael Brenson, New York Times, Friday, March 13, 1987; Michael Brenson, New York Times, Friday, March 18, 1988; Robert Berlind, Art in America, October, 1989; Jerry Cullum, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, June, 1990; Vivien Raynor, New York Times, Sunday, May 5, 1991; Eleanor Heartney, Art in America, June, 1992; William Zimmer, New York Times, Sunday, September 11, 1994
(2) Moore has said that the memory a painting first recalls often serves as the source of its title (Charlotta Kotik, "John L. Moore: Work of the Decade", ARTNOW: John L. Moore, brochure of an exhibit at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, March to June, 1996).
(3) Charlotta Kotik, "John L. Moore: Work of the Decade", ARTNOW: John L. Moore, brochure of an exhibit at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, March to June, 1996. See also New York Times, Friday November 24, 1989; Molly Sullivan, Contemporary Abstract Painting: Resnick, Reed, Laufer & Moore, brochure of an exhibit at the Muscarelle Museum of Art, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1991.
(4) "The abstract shapes rock, assert themselves, pull back, shift back and forth. Nothing seems fixed." (Michael Brenson, New York Times, Friday, March 18, 1988).
(5) Eleanor Heartney, Art in America, June, 1992.
(6) Charlotta Kotik, "John L. Moore: Work of the Decade", ARTNOW: John L. Moore, brochure of an exhibit at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, March to June, 1996