Mokha Laget: "Polychrome Polygons"
David Richard Gallery
June 10 - July 13, 2019
By Jonathan Goodman, July 2019
Mokha Laget is a hard-edge geometric abstractionist whose paintings are shaped, sometimes occurring in two components. Of French background, originally from North Africa, Laget studied art at the Corcoran School in Washington, D.C., where she also worked as a studio assistant for the painter Gene Davis. Now she spends her time in a secluded studio on a mountain forty-five minutes from Santa Fe, where she has lived since 1996. Her work, consisting mostly of stripes and other geometric forms on shaped canvases, intimates considerable knowledge and skill in regard to color field abstraction, geometric painting dating back to the first third of the last century, and relations between two- and three-dimensional work. The show at David Richard Gallery is notable for its rich interplay between one painting and another, as well as its sharp presentation of single works that hold their own alone. The dialogue is remarkable for its evocative connections, made possible not so much by close emulation as by a shared purpose, scheme, and color.
“Polychrome Polygons,” the name of the show, describes Laget’s work in general. Shaping the canvas gives her paintings the marginal eccentricity we might expect from a new body of work. In Forthcoming (2019), a slightly angled canvas whose three horizontal stripes are painted in acrylic and flashe, Laget divides the composition into three horizontal stripes: on top, a short bit of gray on the left, followed by a light-blue band to the right; in the middle, on the left, a short expanse of red with a longer purple band on the right; and on the bottom, a dark-gray piece on the left, followed on the right by a stripe of slate blue. The overall gestalt of the Forthcoming gives us the sense that Laget’s interests are not only painterly but sculptural as well--this is true of most all the works in the show. Color defines and corrects the sharply delineated, geometric spaces that make up the paintings; while color is a major part of Laget’s art, it is also true that it enhances the sculptural implications of her art. The methodology of Laget’s work is original, being oriented toward a nearly scientific explanation of the polygonal, polychromatic treatment of the shaped canvases, whose jutting angles are experienced primarily two-dimensionally rather than moving outward, off the wall. The sculptural quality comes from the eccentricity of the shapes, bent as they are in an angular manner. At the same time, the work relates to architecture; Laget has cited an affinity with the Mexican architect Luis Barragan, whose angular, colorful structures maintain a presence in Laget’s work.
Watershed (2018), just over twelve feet long, is the biggest and likely the most ambitious work of art in Laget’s exhibition. It consists of thick, vertically aligned, but also somewhat biased angular bands and polygonal masses of different colors--blue, mustard, red, yellow, and purple. The broad stripes and masses meet nicely, with no gaps between the edges, which touch, giving the work a tight cohesiveness. Because the bands and broader areas are slightly oblique, the overall experience of the gestalt is a bit idiosyncratic--as if the artist wished to introduce something offbeat into a regularly edged continuum. This happens on a regular basis on Laget’s paintings, which are not quite so orderly as they might seem. The tension that exists between the geometry of her forms and the offbeat slants the shaped canvases maintain results in a language that is particularly the artist’s own. One can see this as well in Seldom Still (2019), a tour de force of solidly hued rectangles and squares seen in angled perspective. Here, the colors seem slightly washed out or, more accurately, suffused with New Mexico’s extraordinary light--Laget has said in conversation that she will set the canvases outside, and that doing so gives their color a quality not possible if the paintings had been stored only within her studio. This subtle aura of hue generated by the decision is hard to specify but is certainly true of many of Laget’s works of art.
The final work to be mentioned, In the Offing (2019)--Laget’s titles are excellent!--is taken up with two triangular forms in its center: black and dark purple. The black is flanked by a red band on the left, while the purple is flanked by a thinner, dark-green stripe on the right. Underneath there is a band of lighter purple and dark green. One hesitates to ascribe particular emotions to these paintings--they are on some level rationally inspired--but it's also true that the overall experience is one of joyousness--in both art and life. This is only an intuition; the insight is impossible to support in a structurally cohesive manner. But knowing Laget a bit, and hearing her talk about her art, as well as recognizing the unique features of the Southwest and its artist inhabitants, I have the sense that Laget is working within a paradigm of unusual distinction. Her work conveys the positive feelings associated with skilled employment of color, while the structure of her paintings establishes a sense of thoughtful building. That she ventures into the realm of sculpture and architecture by shaping her paintings makes her intrepid and exploratory in ways that we remember. This is an excellent show, for both the initiated and those not so experienced in art, since the paintings' shapes and hues are accessible and well put together.