Jeremy Moon was a British abstract painter who died after a motorcycle accident in 1973 at the age of 39. This exhibition of ten large paintings and one floor sculpture offers a fascinating glimpse into a burgeoning career that ended in mid-brushstroke, so to speak.
Moon came relatively late to his calling. He studied law at Cambridge and worked in advertising before he began to think of himself as a full-time artist in the early 1960s.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Moon never traveled much in this country. Nor had he seen the famous “New American Painting” show of Abstract Expressionism when it visited the Tate Gallery in 1959. Still, he was well abreast of developments in American hard-edge and color-field abstraction, and was clearly able to make his own significant contributions to the pictorial discourses that drove them. But Moon’s premature death meant that his innovations were never taken up by other painters or drawn into the modernist mainstream. As a consequence, his work can catch even seasoned gallery-goers unawares.
Most obviously, Moon’s use of color is not just highly personal; at times, it even veers toward peculiar. The one floor sculpture here, 3D 1 72 (1972) is painted in a shiny disagreeable green that hovers between moss and pistachio. Elsewhere, two different paintings combine blue with an odd muddy ocher that Moon probably intended to read as gold from a distance. In Caravan II (1968) the trick does not come off, but in At Midnight (1965) it works supremely well, and the result is one of the best paintings in the show: an allover surface filled with dozens of shallow arcs that float in space like confetti caught in a strobe light.
Other standout works are painted in a tricky coloristic territory that Moon clearly relished, combining vivid yellows, oranges, and reds, either by themselves or with other colors. One example, Signals (1967), is perhaps the most intriguing picture in the show. Moon made a series of at least a dozen paintings in this particular tripartite composition in the same year. He had clearly seen Frank Stella’s closely related paintings from about three years earlier, if only in illustration, but he made something very much his own out of the influence. Increasing the width of lines until they become broad areas of color is Moon’s invention, and Stella has never really been interested in the carefully modulated interplay of colors that took Moon into his own eccentric palette.
By 1973 Moon had already arrived at his mature artistic personality and was able to expand it through a whole range of pictorial possibilities. In fact, this small show presents only the tip of the iceberg that was Jeremy Moon’s career. The prospect of future shows is tantalizing because it may well be that more than 40 years after his death, we are witnessing the rediscovery of a major artistic figure.