Artist Sam Messer is associate dean and adjunct professor at the Yale University School of Art but may be better known as friend to famous writers Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and Paul Auster (The Invention of Solitude, The New York Trilogy). Messer recently created a cycle of paintings that depict Paul Auster’s typewriter and have earned him even more credibility among the art world set.
Although Messer declines to put labels on his work his Mother and Child (1985) exemplifies one of the more popular styles from the 1980s, that being Neo-Expressionism. Neo-Expressionism dominated the art market in the early 1980s and was basically a backlash against the sterile, cold, minimal aesthetic so popular throughout mid-century. Neo-Expressionism’s formal elements are characterized by a visceral treatment of paint and bright palettes aimed at generating an emotional reaction from the viewer. Neo-Expressionism depicts recognizable subject matter, mostly figures and symbols, or even icons, like the Madonna and child.
But Messer’s work is not a retread of an ancient religious theme. The figures’ bodies, those parts that are discernible, are strangely dissociated from the two main portraits. If paint can be considered an inherent part of the content in a painting, then here it has become the content itself, oozing and sliding the figures’ bodies across the picture plane. Messer’s intent is blurred and hard to decipher. What’s your read on this painting?
Mother and Child can be found in our second-floor New Acquisitions gallery.