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Orange-brown painting with blue circles
Orange-brown painting with blue circles

Jeremy Moon, Hoop La, 1965, acrylic on canvas

© Estate of Jeremy Moon, courtesy of Tate Collection

Comic abstract painting? There's tragic and sublime abstraction. There's lyrical and mystical abstraction. There's rational and mechanical abstraction. But comic? How would that go? Could an entirely imageless picture be funny? What would a joke about shapes and arrangements and colours be?

It would be a painting by Jeremy Moon. He does it, and he shows how it's done. His paintings were made of pure forms, but you're never allowed to contemplate a resolved composition. They have something else: a twist, a teeter, a fault-line, a false note. There are patterns hidden in seeming randomness. There are apparent schemes that collapse. Look at Hoop-La, and learn.

Granted, a detailed description of an abstract painting is often intolerable. And a description designed to demonstrate that it's a funny one: that sounds suicidal. But Moon's paintings are often explicable. Their tricks may be subtle. Their elements are clear. His visual wit is worth an analysis.

First point: his edges are sharp. Abstraction has come in soft and hard edges. It did so from the beginning. Kandinsky's forms bleed and blur. Malevich deals in geometrical shapes. Hard edges aren't automatically comic. (They aren't in Malevich or Mondrian.) But hard edges are hospitable to comedy. They introduce abruptness. They establish definite relationships between things – which are then susceptible to definite wrong notes.

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