Intimate Studies of the Head in Donald Moffett’s New Projection Paintings

“head.,” Donald Moffett’s first solo exhibition at Austin’s Lora Reynolds Gallery, includes several of the artist’s new projection paintings—a unique combination of video and painting that challenges assumptions about the nature of each medium and the relation between them. Moffett’s career has included work in many different mediums, including screen-printed posters with the LGBTQ artists’ collective Gran Fury, photography, and work that includes or blurs lines between painting, sculpture, and video.   

Moffett’s work here is a development from earlier paintings that included projected video or projected light. He has said of such paintings, “The light is very destabilizing, it’s very busy, and it’s very colorful.” However, he’s protective of his work being read as painting, saying, “I’m lighting a painting.” Similar to collaborative works by Dave Miko and Tom Thayer, Moffett here projects a videotaped scene onto a monochromatic oil and enamel painting. Each painting in “head.” depicts a quiet and still sitter before the camera. It pans around him or her, studying her features and animating the painting. In the diptych-like pair Lot 102514 (jacqueline) and Lot 103014 (gwendolyn) (all works 2014), the camera studies twins, inviting viewers to consider each woman’s individuation and similarity. The high resolution and large size (each six-by-eight feet) of the paintings allows viewers to examine the sitters very closely.

Like the slow-motion video portraits by Bill Viola, Moffett experiments with the thin division between stillness and active development, between time-based media and painting, and, importantly, between two-dimensional media and sculpture or performance. Lot 102414 (shaun) and Lot 101814 (sarah) stare at one another, situated kitty-corner in one part of the room. The complex amalgam of video, acrylic polymer, paint, urethane, and glass gives the images added texture and visual depth. And the complex emotional valences by the juxtaposition of each sitter with another evokes narratives among the people depicted here, as we read subtle or obvious cues about their relative ages, race, gender, class, and personalities.

Lot 102714 (ed) shows a man fairly close to Moffett’s age. He reminds us that we, like Moffett himself, are temporary and partially blinded voyeurs, but we are nonetheless able to glean a great amount of detailed information from the clues provided by the artist. The movement of the camera gives us slightly more than a painting, but its reductive panning around the sitter gives us less than other videos might. Their stillness, as in Andy Warhol’s Empire (1964) or Sleep (1963), challenge our conceptions of what compels us in an image, and what we love about painting.

—Stephen Dillon

Donald Moffett: head.” is on view at Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin, TX, Nov. 20, 2014–Jan. 17, 2015.

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