Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? @ Visual, Carlow – from 16/09/17 to 12/01/18

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Installation view of Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? at Visual, Carlow. Photograph credit: Ros Kavanagh.

When I first saw Paul Mosse’s work at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin in 1996, I was struck by how unlike any other Irish art it looked. By this I mean that, at that time, the greater percentage of artists working on the island announced themselves as Irish artists first and foremost, and much of what was being produced struck me as either parochial or strenuously international. Mosse’s work managed effortlessly to be neither of these. With complex, layered surfaces, and an all-over, centreless distribution of abstract motif, his work* seemed to me either to be withholding its identity from the viewer, or perhaps more significantly, was not overly concerned with identity in any case. The works in the DHG were as formless and non-specific in provenance as it seemed possible to be within the conventions of a rectangular painting format. At the time it signaled to me the possibility of another path for an artist – one in which an artist could keep the politics of their identity in check, lest it consume and corrupt what they produce.

*(I am referring solely to Mosse’s wall-bound works, rather than dealing only in passing, within the restrictions of this short article, with the many significant sculptural pieces in the exhibition at Visual Carlow.)

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Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? at Visual, Carlow. Photograph credit: Ros Kavanagh.

On the face of it, Mosse would appear to be a very Irish artist indeed; working in a rural area, and cleaving unglamorous abstractions from hefty blocks of layered construction timber like some labourer-artisan. It is also easy to imagine a direct pictorial link between the artist’s buckshot panels and, for example, the casual disorder of a country yard after a hard, damp winter. However, any impulse to form pictorial relations between the artist’s surroundings and the painted and heavily-worked panels themselves serves only to close off more productive avenues of interpretation, and reduces the work to the level of gift shop novelty. Mosse has not simply lifted what he sees beneath his feet and, in fixing it to the perpendicular, created an image of layered history and toil. If these panels (deceptively I believe) resemble gouged and drained soil, then as such, it would be appropriate to say that they had been purged of all romance and lazy sentimentality.

The subject of an artist’s location is at once important and immaterial – it is important how they respond to their location and the effect their environment has on the appearance of the resulting work. Nevertheless, it should be immaterial how they feel about it. Their surroundings may determine certain things such as colour, scale and treatment of surface, but ultimately, any engagement with one’s environment (and this is particularly true I believe of painters) becomes an engagement with the materials with which one represents the condition of being there.  Cezanne was repeatedly drawn to the same ragged hill in the South of France, and in the process of observing it and painting it, perhaps moved further and further from comprehending it and from providing a true depiction of it. For Cezanne, painting sur le motif was a way of wrestling with the very material of paint.

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Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? at Visual, Carlow. Photograph credit: Ros Kavanagh.

In Mosse’s case a similar concern with materiality is hyper-evident. Compared with the more recent works which form part of the artist’s current survey exhibition at Visual Carlow, those in the 1996 show at DHG are practically flat surfaces. The distinction however is merely quantitative. In the artist’s latest work he has allowed certain elements of those earlier panels, such as nails and other forbidding accretions, to proliferate; but in the twenty years that separate these bodies of work many essential characteristics remain.

An inventory of these characteristics might include the following:

Pockmarked layers of wood and paper, from which innumerable segments have been cut, lending the surface the illusion of greater and greater density and complexity the closer it comes to becoming nothing.

The all-over balanced distribution of metal, timber, and glued components, interspersed with masterfully arranged painted marks.

The positioning of the work in the territory between sculpture and painting – a position in which a work’s condition as painting will always, in principle, win out simply by virtue of its placement on a wall.

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Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? at Visual, Carlow. Photograph credit: Ros Kavanagh.

Because of Mosse’s consistency of approach, and the persistence of these essential characteristics, many of the pieces on show at Visual Carlow strike us very clearly as developments on a theme. With the exception of the entirely free-standing sculptural pieces, very little has changed in the wall bound pieces save for a jump in scale, deeper and more layered surfaces, and occasional attacks on the edges of the largely rectangular pictorial format. Despite being cut into and drastically eroded around the edges, these panels retain more of an essence as painting than as 3-D objects, regardless of how deeply layered and eroded they have been made to appear. The surfaces are almost incomprehensibly busy, but, as with the DHG panels, they never overwhelm, but instead lend themselves to intense contemplation.

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Paul Mosse / What’s with the Apocalypse? at Visual, Carlow. Photograph credit: Ros Kavanagh.

Mosse has been working for years within what might seem to be the same patch of abstract territory, with a calm, almost forensic attention to the minutiae of his materials. There is a physicality to the work which, should we decide to see it in this way, speaks of the untrimmed beauty of the landscape within which it was made. Any analogous particularities between the work and the surrounding landscape are incidental next to the depth of investigation Mosse affords to the various material that he uses, and the multitudinous forms he produces. And yet, despite the artist’s absorption in the process of accumulating and removing material, he never allows the work any overly dramatic shifts from one piece to the next. All development is incremental, the whole subtly shifting over time, through the moment to moment process of arrangement and rearrangement of each constituent element. It is much the same process as we might imagine Cezanne undertaking every day, as he lugged his easel up a gravel path to the hill.