Rob Moore taught at Massachusetts College of Art for 26 years and made an indelible impression on those who studied with him - or even those who just passed him in the hall. He was "the kind of a teacher students love to hate - charismatic, authoritative, charming." Nearly 17 years have elapsed since Rob's death on December 31, 1992. He died at age 55 of complications from AIDS, one of many who tragically contracted the disease too soon to benefit from life-prolonging drugs in use today.
Rob Moore closeup from "The Eloquent Eye", a Boston Sunday Globe article about him by Jon Garelick with photographs by Keith Jenkins, published May 22, 1988. The quote in the paragraph above is from this article.
Full page spread from "The Eloquent Eye", subtitled "Rob Moore teaches the art of seeing," showing paint tubes and mixed paint on a palette in Rob's studio. Rob is standing in front of one of his paintings.
That such a vibrant and dynamic person, artist and teacher as Rob should have had his life cut short is truly a great loss. He had so much to contribute with his own painting as well as through the work of his students. He died much too soon.
"It's the difference between seeing and hoping to see." (Rob Moore quoted by Jon Garelick).
In 1988 I graduated from Mass. College of Art (MassArt) after having majored in painting and having studied with Rob Moore during my last year there. Studying painting with Rob was a big reach for me. Most of the time I had no idea what he was talking about. Only now, more than 20 years later, does some of what he said about painting, color, space, marks and two dimensions started to make sense to me. Recently I discovered a notebook I had kept from his color class. As I paged through it, I read verbatim statements I had taken down but not understood at the time. "Oh, that's what he meant," I thought more than once as, for example, I read a homework assignment to make red a relative black in six assemblages of colors. I understand that now but then I was in a quandary.
Cover of the catalog of Rob Moore's retrospective, September 8 - October 23, 1993, Huntington Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art, organized by Jeffrey Keough, Director of Exhibitions. The painting pictured is Untitled, Summer 1992, oil and wax on board, 80"x18".
I have been wanting to write about Rob Moore because he died before the internet made accessing an artist's work and life so simple. If you Google Rob's name, very little comes up and it makes him seem invisible. Articles about him are not easy to find and are not free when you do locate them. I am lucky to have the Jon Garelick article, the retrospective catalog and a review of the retrospective by Christine Temin, then the major art reviewer for the Boston Globe. She described Rob's late work as being "in a league with the likes of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman" although made in a smaller and more intimate scale.
Image from the retrospective catalog, Untitled 1991, oil and wax on board, 80" x 81", collection of David Murphy. This one is my personal favorite.
I feel a bit intrusive writing about him because I did not really know him that well - not on a personal level as many of his students did. But of all the teachers I had at MassArt, he is the one who has had the greatest influence on my work over time. It's only as I have begun to mature as an artist that I realize his influence.
..."there are no rules. There are only what I call truisms, facts: Hue exists, yellow is a color...." (Rob Moore quoted by Jon Garelick)
I can't begin to recap Rob's life and work, but as I read through the slim amount of documentation about him that I have, I did find a striking connection with him that I had not registered before. Rob was one of the founders of the Graphic Workshop in Boston, along with Felice Regan and Chris Mesarch. This print cooperative was formed in response to political and social events such as the assassination of Martin Luther King, the Vietnam war, the killings at Kent State and other turbulent events of the late '60s and early '70s. The idea was to make socially responsible work that was high quality but essentially expressive of a political viewpoint. During his involvement with the Workshop, Rob stopped painting because he questioned "the seemingly selfish act of painting", according to Jon Garelick.
On a trip to New York, Rob stopped in at a Jasper Johns retrospective at the Whitney where the targets, flags and maps were being shown. Rob was blown away by "the sheer involvement of the artist with his material" (Garelick) and came away with tears in his eyes. He realized that it was time for him to "make some of those private excursions" (Garelick quoting Moore) that an artist makes through painting, and this prompted him to withdraw from active participation in the Workshop so that he could begin painting again.
"All I can talk about are the limitations of the medium - the utterly unique conditions of two-dimensional space." (Rob Moore quoted by Jon Garelick)
Rob painted geometric abstractions with oil paint and cold wax medium, but I wonder if he would have adopted encaustic as it became more accessible and widely used. Many of the Johns works included in the show that Rob connected with so emotionally were painted with encaustic, and its materiality impressed him. This is the connection I felt when I read about his reaction to the Johns show: he loved wax and paint as I do.
Summer Series 1987, work on paper, 19" x 5 1/2" on 25" x 33", Estate of Rob Moore. from the catalog of the MassArt retrospective. Rob made several series of prints at Rugg Road Paper that combined thin layers of marks in arrangements with "a simple set of strategies, including reflection, repetition, and displacement, which in combination generate great complexity....near symmetry and imperfect reflection (which) are most characteristic of his subtle destabilization of the visual field." (David Joselit in the catalog of the MassArt retrospective.)
But did he love color more? Rob's juxtaposition of color fields was deeply felt and conveyed emotional weight. He thoroughly understood the interaction of colors, but his understanding was based on perception rather than conception.
Untitled 1990, oil and wax on board, 28" x 84", collection of Nancy Talbot, from the catalog of the retrospective.
"He passionately embraced color with its ability to affect the viewer and to touch something internal. When I look at Rob's work, color operates on the senses like a poet's carefully chosen words." - former student Stephen Mishol quoted in the catalog of the retrospective
"There are as many ways of seeing as there are artists. That's why painting isn't dead." (Jon Garelick quoting Rob Moore)
"He has a particular ability to combine colors and hues which seem to belong to different worlds: sweet synthetic aquas or pink are juxtaposed to dour earth tones. But it is just this logic of balancing strong colors, ranging from the delirious to the somber, which gives weight and poignancy to the geometric gymnastics beneath." - David Joselit in the catalog of the retrospective
"The works from the last couple of years of Moore's life are commanding, with a palette - purple, black gold - full of religious symbolism. A tall vertical from 1991 combines stripes of somber black and gray with an expansive midsection of purple. What rescues the painting from morbidness is that glinting through the waxen purple is a brilliant, glowing violet that reads like hope made tangible." - Christine Temin, "MassArt's Rob Moore: A Life of Form and Color", a review of the retrospective.
I had the above image in my picture file for Rob Moore with the title "Remembrance". I don't know where the image came from but I know it is Rob's work and the title is most apt.
I hope that other students of Rob's will read this and comment about their memories of him.
"What I want you to hold onto is your own faith in making an abstract painting - it's tough. It's a lonely business." - Rob Moore quoted by Jon Garelick in the catalog of the retrospective.
Rob Moore's work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts as well as in many private collections including the collections of Harold Rosenberg, Joan and Roger Sonnabend, Marian and Thomas Marill, the Bank of Boston, the Chase Manhattan Bank and Time Warner, Inc. (from the catalog of the retrospective)