'Comments on the Life and Times of Jeremy Moon, Painter' by Barry Martin
2012

 

During the late 1960's and early 1970s, British painting and sculpture, indeed painting and sculpture per se, and worldwide, suffered a knockback from which it still, and probably never will, completely recover from.
The early and mid-1960's saw both medium areas running at full-steam, abstract art particularly flowering in Great Britain. It had been stimulated and enlivened by the explosive and powerful art works of its American practitioners such as David Smith, Jackson Pollock, Hans Hofmann, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olikski, Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Poons, William de Kooning, Ad Reinhardt, Frank Stella, and those loosely contained within the aura of the New York School of Abstract Art. What distinguished those artists’ works were, large size, ‘loose’ hand-directed paint marks and large expanses of fields of colour. The latter feature accelerated by the development of acrylic water based paints over oil paint in the early 1950's. These characteristics were enthusiastically taken up by an English contingent of abstract painters, with perhaps the ‘Situation’ exhibitions in London in the early 1960's, pointedly showing the direction English painting was then taking.
Barnet Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Ellesworth Kelly, Mark Rothko and Morris Louis, amongst other American painters, suggested an ‘all-overness’ of the painted surface that could, particularly in the case of the former three, be free from the autobiography that characterised the hand-trailed mark-making, exemplified by the painters of Pollock, Hoffmann and so on already mentioned. Reinhardt’s immaculate surfaces and Louis’s poured paint surfaces demonstrating some of the various options artists were deciding upon in the USA.
However, the march of painterliness versus the ‘brush-free’ surface, conjured huge amounts of in-depth discussion in the art press in America and particularly in the American art magazines of Art in America and Art Forum. This American literary characteristic championed American art and generated envy on this side of the Atlantic, and in so doing elicited the regular and familiar cry from English and British abstract painters and sculptors, that similar platforms of intense and on many occasions dense debate did not similarly exist in the English art press.
“Where”, they asked, “was the English Greenberg?” An art critic with ‘eyes’ to champion the advances they believed they (the British) were making in their painting and sculpture.
This background to English advanced art and painting was one that Jeremy Moon had not only entered into, but one that he actively wished to participate in. He regularly commented to me that English art critics neither cared nor were in the main able to write about abstract painting or sculpture. There was also the ongoing debate that English art critics were more readily able to write intelligently and perceptively about recently published books and other art forms where the written and spoken word was the art. Thus, continuing the world-acknowledged strength of English criticism, which was in the field of the great British literary tradition and not the visual field.
In retrospect the English artists’  lot would have been simplified and better overall if the debate had maintained its focus within the painting and sculpture confines that had exemplified these disciplines over the decades, and as subject areas situated within well-defined frameworks of reference. This despite the criticism levelled at the standard of British art reviewing as above.
This, as we know, was not to be, and with quickening pace towards the end of the 1960s and early 1970's1 painting and sculpture per se, were thrown into touch, almost becoming the lepers of the art world through the mouth-piece in England of the likes of Richard Cork; Charles Harrison; Caroline Tisdall; John Tagg; Peter Fuller; Guy Brett etc.2
Conceptual art was the new plaything of these middle-brow art critics who increasingly and arrogantly sidelined British painters and sculptors, and particularly the abstract artists whose work was notably modern. Jeremy was particularly vociferous about these Johnny-come-latelies, including Charles Harrison who had earlier written a very full exposé of his (Jeremy’s) work in Studio International magazine,3 but who according to Jeremy, had ‘thrown the baby out with bathwater’, with his (Harrison’s) ideas incorporated into ‘Art and Language’.
Such, and much more coloured the London, English and British art arena at this period.
It was therefore with foresight and fortitude that Jeremy continued the expansion of his ideas through painting, despite the radically changing art environment that had become both politicised and polemicised by, and in the main, NON-ARTISTS. Unlike earlier epochs in art where the artists themselves pioneered the direction of their art, even if they rubbed shoulders with the art writers, the 1970s saw the development of the ‘self-righteous’ art critics. Writers, who believed they could manipulate and forge the direction of contemporary art in their own image! They, (the British critics), were also unwittingly mimicking a similar attitude adopted by some American critics, such as Barbara Rose, in the middle and late sixties in the USA.
Perhaps, this cacophony of seemingly non-related subjects elevated to ‘high-art’ discussion by those already mentioned, strengthened Jeremy’s resolve and action. Certainly, the total coherence of late Moons, in size, projection, shape, part to whole, colour and amount, are colossal in strength and conception, and although never, I believe, a conscious attempt by Jeremy to answer those at that time who said that, ‘Painting and sculpture are dead’, (he wouldn’t have bothered to act in such a demeaning way!), they show and demonstrate, (if demonstration were necessary) and in the most powerful way, that those critics (already mentioned) were totally and utterly wrong!
Jeremy also held his course through the adverse criticism aimed at him from closer to home. Several English painters of his generation who had not only adopted New York painting styles, but also acted as though they were still living a ‘Cedar Tavern’ style of life during the 1960s, were particularly dismissive of Jeremy’s work. They enacted a kind of false manly bravado where they even spoke with mid-Atlantic accents! These detractors, including painters such as John Hoyland, Basil Beattie, John Edwards etc, criticised Jeremy’s lack of ‘painterliness’. His ‘clean lines’ and unbroken fields of colour worried them. They wanted to see impastoed paint, hands-on references, the stuff of manliness, as they thought of it.
Their reaction to Jeremy’s  ‘modus operandum’ was perhaps predictable. The ‘hands-on’  approach to painting that they had adopted from the New York abstract school, placed great emphasis on the painting ‘evolving’ during the process of its making.
Marks, colour, emphasis, etc. would make the final image through an empirical approach in its making, directly onto the painting’s canvas surface. Jeremy’s ‘a priori’ approach to his work was completely alien to their (as above) sub-American painting processes. 
In Jeremy’s method the final painting was conceived before the stretcher was made, through a series of small-sized coloured pastel works on paper. The size, shape, colour and divisions of the canvas surface, decided upon through the development of these small works on paper, were made prior to the actual canvas. Any adjustments to any of the above constituents of the composition were made at this preparatory stage and not on the canvas itself. This also explains the series-type of small works on paper, where adjustments are made from one to another.
Of course, Jeremy’s understanding of the consequences relating the small preparatory works to the final and large painted statement had come about, and was finely tuned, through his experience of having done this numerous times over the years. This process and artist’s practice is as old as the Renaissance and a stock-in-trade technique of its artists, and those who over the centuries followed on.
The New York abstract artists, and we mustn’t forget those European artists of Soulage; Matta; Miro etc, who enforced by ideas from Surrealism were pioneers in evolving the look of the canvas through working directly onto it and without transferring prior drawings or scaling up from them.
This spontaneity of action and reaction could be expressed through the liveliness of the mark onto the surface of the painted canvas. Forms and shapes could also be evolved during this process some drummed up from the sub-conscious. This latter manifestation being a key component of Surrealist technique. Jeremy’s conceptual approach to the canvas and its final form was not against this style of painting4 as outlined above, it was another style, Jeremy’s style of painting. However, it may be said with some certainty that Jeremy’s paintings are imbued with an air of Englishness. This contrasted with the prevailing American style mentioned above and also contributed to the criticism levelled about Jeremy’s paintings by some of those contemporary artists previously named.
His emphasis on the conscious intelligence of the artist in the decision making process of the painting’s composition is laid bare in the final painting and made as positive as is possible. He did not hedge his bets or waffle the edges in the act of painting. The realised painting for him was as a clear cut extension of his conscious thinking laid bare. In fact, he appeared determined to make the difference between his thought and the finalised painting as small and imperceptible as possible. Any extraneous differences that appeared to intrude between these two states were quickly erased and expunged. In this sense Jeremy was more a conceptual artist, albeit a painter, than most of those so-called, who followed and were mistakenly exalted by the likes of Harrison, Cork and others.
Jeremy has seen off those mistaken, and in some cases wilfully destructive critical accusations made about his working methods and painting, his work transcending the ‘sell by date’ and looking as fresh today in the twenty-first century as when they were conceived and painted.

Pity the same cannot be said of the work of some of Jeremy's detractors and contemporaries, including those mentioned above.