Both Sides Now: “Night Clouds,” her upcoming Macy Gallery exhibit, showcases Joy Moser’s interests in abstractionism and the natural world
“I started out as an abstract painter – but the natural world is so interesting that I wanted to investigate it.” It’s a late August afternoon – the day of the big solar eclipse – and Joy Moser is talking about “Night Clouds,” the new exhibition of her work that will run in Teachers College’s Macy Art Gallery from September 5-28. “Landscapes are tricky, though – if you’re not careful, you can end up painting sappy calendar pictures. What I wanted was the mystery – to take you someplace you want to go but can’t quite figure out. So I’m excited to be going back to abstraction.”
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Moser, for the past 25 years an adjunct professor in TC’s Art & Art Education Program, is continuing to explore the natural world, but returning to abstraction as her method. The sky-scapes of “Night Clouds” are anything but sappy – her clouds are massive, unknown life forms caught in rare close-ups, in motion against often ominous blues. Like an eclipse, you can imagine them causing people across different states and countries to stop on street corners to look up, eyes shaded, with a mixture of awe and dread.
“Landscapes are tricky – if you’re not careful, you can end up painting sappy calendar pictures. What I wanted was the mystery – to take you someplace you want to go but can’t quite figure out. So I’m excited to be going back to abstraction.”
“Painting in general, and landscape in particular, has a kind of universality,” says Moser, who came to TC in 1992 at the request of faculty member Judith Burton to teach for a single semester and never left. “Unlike books or film, they don’t need translation. And with all the terrible stuff going on in the world, that’s a good thing.”
Moser came late to the art world. She majored in philosophy at Sarah Lawrence and was admitted to Columbia Law School. She only began painting after having her first child, and taught for some years at NYU before leaving to paint full time. Her sense of her own evolution as an artist and that of art itself over the past half century are reasons why her course for doctoral students, “Art in Visual Culture,” is perennially over-subscribed.
“I’ve lived two lives – as an educator and as a painter,” says the artist, who works from an “an extraordinary studio, built by my architect son” in her Westchester home. “You’re an educator always, which means you have to be in touch with everything politically and socially. So I contextualize art for the students in my class. The course is divided into what went before modernism, and post-modernism. They read Arthur Danto [the late art critic for The Nation who challenged viewers to define art for themselves]. We talk about beauty, which is coming back, and about the influence of digital media on the art world. I also provide them with a monthly list of all the most exciting exhibitions going on in the city.”
Teachers College comes in for its share of attention. “I always talk about [Georgia] O’Keeffe, [Ad] Reinhardt, [Agnes] Martin [all TC alumni], and about TC as a place for young and old to continue that rich experience.” And, reflecting the Art & Art Education program’s longstanding emphasis on performance – on doing art as well as studying it -- Moser asks students in her class to read their papers aloud.
“It’s important to hear your own voice and be critical. It’s wonderful how people clean up their act – how their writing gets better.”
Moser applies that logic to her own work as well. “The natural world is extraordinary. My quest is to keep exploring it.” – Joe Levine
Proceeds from the “Night Clouds” exhibition at Macy Gallery will benefit the Moser-Burton Scholarship.
Published Tuesday, Aug 22, 2017