Painter Ayanah Moor is careful not to reveal spoilers about her work.
The Chicago artist incorporates highly focused intentions into her paintings in the “I Wish I Could Be You More Often” exhibition, on display at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art from February 10 through April 10, but she wants patrons to be able to bring their own experiences when they interpret her work.
The title unlocks impressions of the 20-some paintings in the exhibit, but it is also a lyrical, open-ended invitation to viewers, something for them to ponder.
“How the viewer thinks about the title might affect the way they come to see the work in the show,” Moor says. “Rather than illustrating something or it being a theme, I like that there is a poetic element to the title that the viewer carries with them. They have to kind of negotiate what that language is in relation to the paintings. The ‘I’ could become them—they could be the speaker. Or they could be curious about who the ‘I’ is. Is it the artist? Is it a figure in the work? Those are some of the things at play in the title.”
In some pieces, Moor creates collages that pull images from magazines such as Ebony and Jet. She incorporates images that reflect Black life in Chicago and nationally. The rich histories in the magazine archives allow her to source storytelling imagery that engages ideas about Blackness and queerness. They can spark different connections for different people.
“My attraction to certain images is very complex,” Moor says. “I’m really interested in the subtlety that operates with these ads. I’m very interested in the kind of queer subtext that could be read in some of these relationships. That’s something that may be readable by some viewers and may not be readable by others. I like multiple entry points. You may pick up on a queer sensibility in some of the works, and if not, you might be attracted to the use of color and composition and technique. That is something I really embrace. I don’t want to limit what the work is doing because I think the work is doing multiple things.”
An artist trained in painting and printmaking, until recently she has mostly focused on print and performance. The Cleve Carney show will mark her first solo museum show showcasing her paintings, works that range in size from 48×60 inches to 60×80 inches.
“Ayanah Moor: I Wish I Could Be You More Often”
2/10-4/10, Wed-Sun 11 AM-5 PM, Cleve Carney Museum of Art at College of DuPage, 425 Fawell, Glen Ellyn, 630-942-2321, theccma.org
She began working with curator Justin Witte before the pandemic, engaging in a dialogue around her work that sparked her interest in exhibiting at the museum. As an art professor for more than 20 years, Moor was attracted to the educational aspects of the museum, located on the Glen Ellyn campus of College of DuPage. The show was scheduled and, like so many things in the world of COVID-19, got delayed repeatedly. The delays, though, gave her an opportunity to create more.
“There were a number of paintings the curator thought would make a good show at this museum,” Moor says. “Since that time, I kept making work. This is really about two years of painting.”
Most of the works are abstract, though she says they sometimes have something in them that is very specific and direct. She grapples with material that exists to create something new with its own function.
“I’m really right now attracted to a more abstract sensibility,” Moor says. “There are elements within the work that could allow someone to kind of name what it is, but largely they are pretty abstract paintings. I’m really thinking about pleasure and there are aspects of the painting where there is a conversation between really loose brush strokes and a field of color or really harsh diagonals and a circle. There are very formal compositional things I’m playing with, coupled with the colors, that has made it really exciting for me.”
While she waxes eloquently about the poetic resonance of the works, she ultimately backs away from providing meaning.
“I don’t want to reduce the experience they could have with the work which is outside of what my words might convey,” Moor says. “I don’t want to overly reduce the experience of the work by oversimplifying.”
Instead, she invites visitors to visit the art museum to lose themselves in the complex wonder of a person’s wish to be another.
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