Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Martin Mugar: The Pastorale

Martin Mugar at the Bromfield Gallery, 2013

Is it possible that our own expectations are what cloud our vision, that life is never what it seems because what we want gets in the way? This struggle is at the core of Martin Mugar's work; this struggle is the mighty challenge that he has taken on, and that in turn explains the kind of challenge that the viewer faces when confronted with his paintings.

Martin Mugar's work is only "not what it seems" because of our expectations. We expect that pastel candy-like surfaces that appear like a large confection are sweet and decorative. We might eschew the sugar rush, the diabetic coma, the sick stomach. Or we might dismiss the pleasantries, the overall decorativeness, the unbridled optimism, the quiet pastorale.

What is truth could pass for irony, but it is not. It is us. We are not up to the challenge. Martin Mugar's work is a mountain we cannot climb. It is too high.

But the truth is simpler still. Mugar is interested in light, in mortality, in the universe. If you see this, you see his work. It is anything but sweet. It is anything but decorative. It takes on our largest and most frightening questions.

Martin Mugar at the Bromfield Gallery, 2013

And it does so rather ingeniously. Mugar finds a way of dialoguing with these questions by not getting caught up in paint in the traditional sense. He is a painter, and isn't it nice just to paint. But this isn't about paint anymore; it is about something more, so he has come up with a material vehicle for his expression that removes that distraction from the experience, that frees the work from that misdirection.

Yes, this is about something more. So instead of sensuous oil paint at the end of a brush, he applies his wax and pigment concoction with a tool that is, yes, something a pastry chef might use. But again, this is no pastry.

Pastels don't interest him per se. But in order to get as much light into the work as possible he loads up white to achieve this, reducing the colors he needs to direct his narrative, his conversation with the almighty, to the palest possible terms while still retaining their "color." Optically that is the effect, the dissolve, just like color dots in offset printing, they become neutralized at a distance, merging, coming together, coalescing, losing themselves in the light that they all miraculously generate. Think white light. Think Turner, think Monet, not Ben&Jerry's.

Light is not just the means to his ends, it is his beach, his sandbox; where he lives and breathes. Where he plays! Where he expounds. Where he wrestles with God.

Martin Mugar at Bow Street 2009
Subtlety and sublimation are the twin engines of his ship. His twin masts. And his sweet perfume. His surprising quiet strength. Lilac. Rose. Jasmine. Gardenia. Violet. The colors of smell. The smell of good things. Making the best of things. Wasn't one of his paintings titled "My Mother's Dress." Isn't it all about the smells. Memory. The dream that slips and slides, and slips away.

This is where he lives. Somewhere between the scent of the garden and the silvery reflections out on the waters near the New Hampshire shore, where he makes sense of it all, makes art of it all. Somewhere between the birth and loss of a child. Somewhere between life and death. And maybe somewhere beyond. This is the stuff of his paintings. This is his story.

Martin Mugar, 2012, oil and wax on wood

These are "what does it all mean" paintings. Maybe sometimes "what the hell" paintings that have something of Job about them. "What the hell do you want from me" paintings. "Fighting for the light" paintings. Is it ironic that what he does to liberate his paintings, and us, might end up getting in the way? That we can't get past his invention. Like the sound of Frankie Valli's falsetto voice.

Perhaps. But if we want to get up where the air is fresh and sweet, we have to make the climb. That's the thing. The worst thing that you could say about Martin Mugar's paintings is that they belong in a museum, the only place where we can possibly have the time and space to understand them.

That said,  we don't have to understand them.  We can climb as high as we like.  We can have fun, because they can be fun too, and sweet, and even silly. Joyful. Of course. Absolutely.

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, 2014

Detail:from the painting behind him in the top photo

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Pastoral is very graceful in relation to your work."

Jed Perl