Damian Moppett's Large Painting and Caryatid Maquette in Studio at Night explores the artist studio

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Damian Moppett
At the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Offsite until May 2013

The studio has been a favourite subject of artists for, well, centuries. From Jan Vermeer’s small, exquisite, 17th-century The Art of Painting, populated only by the artist and his allegorically accoutred model, to Gustave Courbet’s big, complex, mid-19th-century work The Artist’s Studio, thronging with people and animals, the space in which the artist works has taken on a highly symbolic character in western cultural history. Early modernist artists, such as Pablo Picasso, used the subject of the studio not only as a plane on which to manipulate formal elements but also as an altar at which to worship the gods of creativity—i.e. themselves.

Contemporary artists, such as Ian Wallace, continue to employ the studio as a site of visual and intellectual inquiry—and now a younger generation, represented by Damian Moppett, has taken on the subject. His Large Painting and Caryatid Maquette in Studio at Night, a sculptural installation in painted metal, recently debuted at the VAG’s Offsite (located next to the Shangri-La Hotel on Georgia Street). Based on his 2008 painting of the same title, Moppett’s sculpture is executed in a series of large, flat, cutout pieces of metal, vividly painted and mounted on steel supports. The effect is obviously that of a modernist stage set, although the individual components are so highly abstracted that we might not recognize the studio as the subject of this play without first reading the work’s short intro panel. Many of Moppett’s stylized shapes evoke Henri Matisse’s late-life cutouts. They’re also reminiscent of Jean Arp’s biomorphic abstractions, especially his painted wood assemblages.

Moppett’s eclectic art practice, which ranges across a number of media, is marked by an impressive technical facility and an equally impressive knowledge of art history. According to the VAG’s media release, he focuses on the artist’s studio “as a site of experimentation and a theatrical setting for the performative nature of art-making”—thus the stage-set quality of his Offsite sculpture. Certainly, art-making is a performance in Courbet’s Artist’s Studio, and the white figure in the painting standing in Moppett’s studio seems to mirror that of the nude model at the centre of Courbet’s otherwise fully clothed crowd of onlookers. Save for the crouched and slightly satanic caryatid on the far right of Moppett’s composition, this studio is empty. In the painting, deep shadows cast a mood of mystery across the act of creation. In his sculpture, however, the meaning of the artist’s studio is both more theatrical and more oblique.

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