Jeremy Moon – Call that art?

Untitled [8/71] 1971 Jeremy Moon 1934-1973 Purchased 2006
Jeremy Moon Untitled [8/71] (1971) acrylic on canvas

When you walk into Tate Britain you are given a choice as to which rooms you visit. There are hundreds of representational paintings in which the subject of the composition is immediately obvious, a portrait or a landscape, for example, where the artist has attempted to render a likeness, pretty much like our ancestors sought to render the likeness of antelopes and bison and human figures carrying spears on the walls of the cave in Altamira.

So what on earth was Jeremy Moon trying to render when he produced “Untitled [8/71]”? The answer is simple. He was rendering a visual format we are all so familiar with: a grid. We’ve all seen grids a thousand times, probably see them everyday and we take them for granted. Timetables are laid out in grids, many gardens have trellises and if they are lucky will have English roses growing up the trellis making a wonderful combination of geometric and non-geometric forms. Chess boards and so many other board games are based around grids. So in a sense, even Moon’s non-representational paintings actually represent something. The fact that he does not title many of his works, however, indicates that he does not wish to give the observer any preconceptions over and above what is obvious in the paintings, no verbal stimulus that would in some way limit the observer’s perception.

But anyone could paint this, you might say. To which I would retort, “Okay, if you say so. Go ahead and try. And if you really think it’s child play, get a child to reproduce it.” The fact is that tremendous technical skill is required to produce a work such as “Untitled [8/71]”. Perhaps what is disconcerting is that the palette is very restricted, unlike a Cézanne or a Dutch master. The plastic arts can suffer from the same prejudices that affect classical music. If individuals are brought up on a lazy, limited diet to believe that all classical music has to sound like Beethoven, all opera like Verdi, then it can be difficult to appreciate the avant-garde composers. The problem here is not one of ignorance but of education. Real education is essentially about getting human beings to think and feel for themselves so that they trust their consciousness and their emotions. The patina of knowledge acquired in the educational process is just that, a patina: knowledge is not the same as thinking and feeling. Art is the expression of thought and feeling, consciousness applied to an expressive medium. What thoughts or feelings does a portrait, so well executed that it looks like a photograph, stimulate in the observer? Or, why did artists down the years stop painting antelopes or bison on their living room walls? Not that I’m knocking representational painting. If anything, what I find disturbing is how conventional schooling so often fails to provide young people with sufficient opportunity to explore the arts. Hobbyhorse again! “Get down,” says uncle Toby.

Born in 1934, Jeremy Moon was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1973. There is a website dedicated to his work where you can see many of his beautiful paintings However, my recommendation is, get along to Tate Britain in Pimlico as soon as you can and see the work in the original.