Barbara Moody’s smart new series of collages are on view at Kingston Gallery through August 2. The landscapes offer a complex revision of the suburbs, using photographs she took in various locations of Boston’s North Shore, where she lives and works. An overall pattern, quilt-like, emerges, with rich patches of texture and color, such as that of brick and rusted chain. At first the works seem like mixed media, but with the exception of acrylic, the swathes of color are all from photos. Moody cuts them in complex patterns, at times abstracting the original so it appears unfamiliar. The pieces are rejoined so that they arch, buckle, and ripple into spaces that do not recede and settings that do not impart a sense of order.
The collages rarely offer a space to “walk” through, but there is a hallway in Dwell, one of the smaller pieces. Moody captured buildings in the process of being destroyed or returning to nature. She uses these images to consider the vulnerability in residential environments betrayed by rough edges such as crumbling roof tiles, chipping paint, and rust. There are things we purposely ignore in order to retain a sense of stability, but, viewing these images, we continually shift from one form to the next, to a restless effect. Enter at Own Risk #2 is one of the darkest pieces in terms of mood if not color, with piles upon piles of ruin in turquoise, yellow, and white.
The palette, including the whites and coastal grey of worn wood, gives hints of its setting of Boston’s North Shore. She placed the images of the wood, lightened, dried out and cracked by the salty seaside air, as the sky on most of the pieces. As we focus on the horizon of the landscapes, then, we see things that are found on the ground.
The collages conjure a specific setting of suburban, coastal Massachusetts, but they also relate to disturbing stories in the news, such as the recent earthquakes in Nepal and the drought in California. The culture humans built is jumbled up as a result of the forces of the earth, a theme that relates to Moody’s earlier series of paintings. The different media provides a change in composition, as the collages fill the grid of the picture plane in contrast to the more atmospheric feel of the paintings. Both series comment on the fragility of life. The opposite of Instagram filtering, they intensify and compress the ravages of time on our built world to comment on the damage inflicted by nature.
Not all art should make you feel comfortable, and often the best art awakens you in some way. Humans are just as much a part of nature as the trees, complicating the victim/culprit dialectic. This idea came up at a gallery talk by Steve Locke, who curated the current exhibition, Arcadia: Thoughts on the Contemporary Pastoral, located nearby at Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts. We were looking at photographs by Eirik Johnson, who photographed details of trees that people carved words into. The tree bark entirely fills each frame. Many of the words are evidently old, and the surface of the bark has since healed and obscured the language. One tree says “we were here,” and the ghostly letters manage to come across as both predictable and prescient. Our knee-jerk reaction to carving letters in trees is that is disrespectful, but in the scheme of things, and as captured by Johnson, they seem more like an ongoing and ancient conversation. Likewise, in Moody’s collages, the unease is apparent, but a specific perpetrator is not.