Jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran’s new pigment-on-paper abstractions in this show, created during the pandemic, greatly broaden the relationship between the body and sound. The impressions captured by the artist in these images are, in some sense, acoustic: Moran made these works by laying sheets of paper on a piano keyboard, coating his hands with color, and then playing the instrument, producing a frottage of mechanical and musical activity. These indexical, machinic imprints function as several things at once: a performance record, a sensory stamp, and perhaps even an ex post facto graphic score. In the gallery’s back hangs a huge unstretched canvas—the “stage” upon which Moran composed these prints. Variegated blacks and rich Egyptian blues appear in this work as well as in the pieces on Japanese gampi paper installed throughout the space.
And such haunting blues: the blues of American bigotry, the blues of corrupt politics, the Covid-19 blues—this nation’s darkest blues, rich with cruelty, pain, and suffering. In the wake of a global health crisis and worldwide protests against lethal racial injustice caused by police brutality, Moran’s explorations of blue inhabit all manner of psychic and emotional terrain. As I take in this show, a passage from James Baldwin’s 1963 book The Fire Next Time comes to mind: “An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.” In this current moment, when so much abstract image-making embraces the empty stylistic tropes of previous eras, Moran’s drawings, by contrast, address real histories, near and far. They negotiate a lyrical stillness with a palpable sense of exhaustion and breathlessness. As a title from one of the works here suggests, Moran “make[s] freedom in the night while hammering together the walls.”
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