An Interview with Mario Moore

Image courtesy of  Mario Moore Studio

Image courtesy of Mario Moore Studio

Mario Moore is one of the emerging and remarkable painters of the present era, whose works reminds the new creation as a contemporary flavor of the 17th Century Baroque painting. He plays with the sense of drama and the contrast of light and dark with positioning Black bodies into the primary source of the paintings, which evoke various concepts of cultural identity, race, or history.  Moore received a BFA in Illustration from the College for Creative Studies (2009) and an MFA in Painting from the Yale School of Art (2013). He has participated as an artist-in-residence at Knox College, Fountainhead residency and the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. 

Moore’s work has afforded him many opportunities-- from multiple exhibitions and featured articles including the New York Times. His work is included in several public and private collections which include the Detroit Institute of Art and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Some of his solo show exhibits have been seen at the David Klein Gallery and The Urban Institute of Contemporary Art. His work is also included in Fired Up! Ready to Go! Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art (2017) and The Studio Museum in Harlem’s catalog, Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art(2014). He has recently been awarded a Princeton Hodder Fellowship for 2018-2019. 

Image courtesy of  Mario Moore Studio

Image courtesy of Mario Moore Studio

Jiyong Sim: The stage-like setting as traditional paintings seems like one of the vital aspects of your art. How do you deal with this stage setting and sense of drama in your painting? 

Mario Moore: For me, the most interesting part of art is the interaction between the viewer and what is being viewed. I want the person standing in front of my work to feel as if they are a part of that world. The “stage” is just a mechanism but I view it more as a forced perspective, I want it to feel like everything in the work is pushed towards the viewer.

Image courtesy of  Mario Moore Studio

Image courtesy of Mario Moore Studio

“One of my first inspirations, when I started to paint, was Caravaggio.
I really appreciated how he painted real people and did not focus on an idealistic image of beauty or tradition”
— Mario Moore

Jiyong Sim: It seems like in your painting has a strong sense of connection with the 17th Century Baroque painting. How is it related to your works? 

Mario Moore: One of my first inspirations, when I started to paint, was Caravaggio. I really appreciated how he painted real people and did not focus on an idealistic image of beauty or tradition. The ability to see a real person whether anyone recognizes them or not is really important to me considering through European painting and western painting history, the Black figure was represented as a type and not a real individual. I want people to look back at my work and see that the people within my paintings lived and breathed.

Image courtesy of  Mario Moore Studio

Image courtesy of Mario Moore Studio

Jiyong Sim: Is there any reason that you are fascinated with the painting except for the other genre?

Mario Moore: My mother and many of her friends are artists. I watched her make paintings growing up, seeing an empty two-dimensional surface turn into something was amazing to me and it still is. I am also really fascinated by the materiality of paint. A lot of artists I grew up looking at were abstract artist and I especially loved paintings that focused on color and the tactility of paint. I can stare at those pieces forever. But I also admire and create sculpture, drawings, and etchings.

Image courtesy of  Mario Moore Studio

Image courtesy of Mario Moore Studio

Jiyong Sim: In some of your paintings, there is specific evidence that is using the Chiaroscuro to maximize the sharp contrast of light and dark that lead to emphasize on the shadow part with the depiction of the Black body. What is your intention on this effect?

Mario Moore: I use it as a compositional tool to guide the eye of the viewer but I also use it specifically on Black skin because I feel like art history misses so much information and color when it comes to paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt and many other painters who tried to paint Black skin. They lack color and light needed to describe Black bodies, so my focus is to show all the information possible when it comes to light and also to really focus on what paint can do beyond trying to make a piece that is photo realistic. 

Image courtesy of  Mario Moore Studio

Image courtesy of Mario Moore Studio

Jiyong Sim: How does your cultural identity and ideology is manifested in your series of paintings? 

Mario Moore: I use a lot of resources within my work, from American history to poetry and world history but my main source of inspiration is my experiences and those around me. I think about how my body is seen in the world that I live in, specifically America. I think about how Black women are viewed in America and consider these subjects to be as important as any other to make artwork about.

Image courtesy of  Mario Moore Studio

Image courtesy of Mario Moore Studio

Jiyong Sim: For the painting that deals with the figures, the choice of positioning the characters and composition of the circumstances are one of the essential parts that cause different results. How do you deal with those issues? 

Mario Moore: Everything that I do starts with a concept. From there I do a quick sketch and see how the composition looks and if the concept still holds. Depending on the project I am working on I may work from life or take photos of people to use for the works. Through the painting process, things might change because I believe as you work on a piece it will tell you the next direction you need to go.

Image courtesy of  Mario Moore Studio

Image courtesy of Mario Moore Studio

Jiyong Sim: Most of your painting, except for some of the figure with closed eyes, the figure’s eyes are toward the viewer. What is your intention to manifest?

Mario Moore: It is important that the figures in my paintings are aware of the viewer. As they are being looked upon the eyes are looking back out. There is a sense of agency in the work, a response to a denial in imagery and history for Black faces.

Image courtesy of  Mario Moore Studio

Image courtesy of Mario Moore Studio

Jiyong Sim: Do you want your painting as a realistic approach to human figures and their events or any other specific atmosphere?

Mario Moore: I think about the historic elements of realism and what it meant when it originated as a term for art and that comes out of the Baroque period. It is something that was fighting a traditional approach to history painting which used idealistic figures and anatomy to create large multi figural paintings that would illustrate a biblical or mythological story. Realism still pursued the task of telling these stories but they used real individuals to create their paintings. I am interested in talking about human experiences using Black figures in my work.

Image courtesy of  Mario Moore Studio

Image courtesy of Mario Moore Studio

Jiyong Sim: In your point, what would you want viewers to focus on the specific aspects (color, composition, cultural background, socio-political mention...etc.) most in your paintings?

Mario Moore: My work has many layers. It is my hope that the viewer of one of my pieces focuses on whatever interests them and to keep them looking, keep them coming back to the work to find new information. That is what excites me about painting, the ability to see a piece I have seen several times but still noticing something new.

Image courtesy of  Mario Moore Studio

Image courtesy of Mario Moore Studio

Jiyong Sim: What is your plan for the next five years as a point of development of your artistic career?

Mario Moore: I have a lot of shows that I am getting prepared for, so my focus is on those exhibitions. There are a few art fairs, group shows, and a museum solo show. But as far as my plan goes, it is to continue to have the time and space to create and hopefully soon create a space in Detroit where I am from to give young artist that same opportunity of time, space and money to create their work.

Image courtesy of Justin Millhouse

Image courtesy of Justin Millhouse

BY JIYONG SIM
JIYONG IS A KOREAN-AMERICAN ARTIST BASED IN NYC