Elaboration & Eradication: Peter Moore and the process of painting

Writing on the painted surface - writing as painting - has become a familiar practice. It has, indeed, become one of the defining tropes of postmodem painting, detracting from the fabric of paint and from painterliness, drawing attention to the intellectual activity of painting. Such activity often leads us away from the possibilities of colour and its lusciousness, the accidental but suggestive mark and the undreamt-of juxtaposition of images. So it is rewarding to discover a painter whose work, while formed by writing is still concerned with colour and image, with visual as much as literary poetics. And what colour what images! Both have the unexpectedness of all exciting painting. We are directed towards visual and intellectual experiences we never expected - odd and sometimes unpleasant colour combinations, a melange of ancient and modern images which may - or may not - fit together to provide a hidden narrative.

In his work in the 1980s Moore started to explore the idea of a visual diary in a response to two sources - AIDS and the money market. Each page would record the often diverse & even contradictory elements which preoccupied him at that time. Writing to himself in elaborate calligraphy, these early paintings resembled the pages of an illuminated commonplace book. Yet it was the process of illumination which elevated it above the purely personal & private. Illumination, a process which had deeply interested Moore as a youth, and its related craft of calligraphy, were kept in their place by a real painterly quality, an original colour sense and the personal choice of texts to accompany his own recorded thoughts. Paul Klee is an obvious influence upon Moore's ordering of space, the use of water-based media on paper, the personal colour sense and the relationship of the abstracted physical world. But the Babel of visual and verbal borrowings seem to suggest Basquiat, albeit an erudite and reflective Basquiat.

While his sources represent polarised extremes - the personal and the public - they began to sit together on the surface of the paper with an unexpected poignancy. In recent years he has begun to introduce motifs from a culture that had interested him for many years, that of ancient Rome. In Moore's complex images the viewer is presented with a heady mixture of sensuality and common sense. The result is a combination of the familiar, even banal, language of the commercial world and the proximity of the ancient world with its appetites, desires and rituals.

Moore's method is to cover the sheet with pictorial or verbal motifs and to paint around them. He is unhampered by symbolic colour use, choosing the colour for its purely visual appeal although, from time to time, there is an overt descriptive use of colour - sea green or blood red. Gradually, layer upon layer of text is added, one partially - or even completely - obliterating the other. Some of the image, eradicated from a 'draft' - is a memory layer, no longer visible but part of the composition or decomposition of the main, emergent idea. This tactic has recently led the artist into a surprise tactic. Whereas some of the paintings were completed over a long period of time, one surface replacing another, he began to work on earlier works, too - eradicating or elaborating upon ideas from a former period of his career. Early paintings have been subsumed into this process, some from around 20 years before with their 'pop' images - of Joe Dallessandro or George Best, for instance- gradually corrupted by the addition of new layers of paint and new images. Thus the movie pinup reappears as a Bacchus, the football star as a Byzantine ikon.
Colin Cruise
August 1999
Colin Cruise is a renowned art historian and commentator, recent Chair of the Association of Art Historians.
© 2007 Peter Moore