A double seduction
When it comes to the making of art, painter Michael Mogavero cares about only one thing: the work itself. He was in the middle of the 1980s New York City art boom, living downtown, exhibiting at the prestigious Holly Solomon gallery, and witnessing just how much the art world was concerned about anything but the art itself. Eventually, he made his way to Austin, where he has continued steadily painting year after year. His solo exhibition "Interludes," currently at the East Austin alternative space Pump Project Art Complex, is a testament to his conviction. Mogavero cares very little about prestige or hype. He chose this offbeat exhibition space as it best serves to view this new body of work.
Austin Chronicle: What was the genesis of "Interludes"?
Michael Mogavero: The series began using contemporary pornographic images as a way to explore taboo, which is still such a metaphorical rich area, whether 16th century Florence or our 21st century culture. The taboo usages in art are expressed through metaphor, symbol, and cultural signifiers as sexuality is always cloaked within its time period. Every culture has its voyeuristic elements, but we have now raised it to fine art because of technological invention and use of the Internet.
AC: Some of the imagery is quite explicit. Was that an artistic concern or hindrance?
MM: I wanted these pictures to have a double seduction. At first, the viewer is pulled in by a believable and ornamental enterprise [baroque gates]. Then you notice behind the gates there is something else going on, a different kind of seduction, one that could be very uncomfortable for the viewer. That said, this work is not about a specific agenda regarding culture, pornography, or gender. I have always been interested in the expression of the figure. The figures are chosen as form, working them up mostly monochromatically so they would have a Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculptural-esque feel to them.
AC: What was it about Bernini's work that inspired you?
MM: Sex. The way he would depict what we would consider pornographic moments, allegorical or otherwise. They are depicted either just before the act or immediately after. I was interested in taking the pornographic images of today and recontextualizing them in a classical mode.
AC: Is it also about desire?
MM: Oh yes. Desire has played such an enormous role in art-making for centuries. Look at Italian painting; it is just pulsing with desire. When I first started to look at it, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. We still live in a "look, don't touch" culture.
AC: This body of work is strikingly complex and only could have been made today.
MM: Exactly. The question is, how do you find your own moment? My roots are in abstraction, but I also love so many things, from the work of minimalist Robert Ryman to Italian architecture, as well as baroque, narrative, and figurative. My evolution has made me more curious. In the studio, I often wonder how forms pushed together or juxtaposed with a particular element will affect one another. There is a lineage as the nature of art is operational. It doesn't happen in a vacuum.
AC: Is the subject matter the primary motivator?
MM: Ultimately, it's an excuse to make pictures, and as an artist, you want that excuse to be meaningful. Look at the work of Philip Guston. To him, he was still making abstract pictures, except they just happen to have a bald guy in it, with a cigarette, in front of his studio light bulb. It's important that your content is compelling enough to you to give you the motivation and time it takes to make the work. Even though the strength and the power of the work comes from the artist's self and from the internal workings – psychological, emotional – it has to have linger power.
AC: You have always worked in series. When is it time to move on?
MM: The work comes from a seed moment, and one has to see it through the development. I feel like I could work on this series, "Interludes," for the rest of my life, which I won't. You know it instinctively, when it is time to wind it down. Usually, it is because something else caught your inquisitive eye; something else is tugging at you. You find the right moment to make that transition.
My transitions have always been incremental rather than monumental.
"Interludes" is on view through Feb. 20, Wednesday & Saturday, noon-5pm, and by appointment, at Pump Project Art Complex, 702 Shady. For more information, visit www.pumpproject.org.