Bamboo, Paintings, 12 x 16.5

The Lyrical Linear Universe of Fred Mou

Line is the essence of form and a delineator of character, according to artists in Asian countries where calligraphy is regarded as an art form on a par with painting, and where its greatest exponents generally surpass the linear mastery of our best Western artists. Fred Mou, a Swiss architect-turned-artist trained at the Institute of Architecture in Geneva, who began his career at the School of the Beaux Arts, in Paris, is the exception to the rule. Mou is a painter whose works in acrylic on paper consist primarily of colored lines, rather than areas of color in the usual Western manner. Lines dance and swirl over the white expanse of the paper with a grace that is uncommonly beautiful in its sinuous sense of movement. Among contemporary American artists only Brice Marden’s “Cold Mountain” series, influenced by Chinese calligraphy, seems comparable. But while Marden’s oils on canvas partake of the aggressive scale of Abstract Expressionism, Mou’s relatively modest formats lend his works an intimacy and a poetic delicacy that puts them in a category all their own. Such intimacy is especially refreshing and something to be treasured in an art world where many works are cumbersome and overblown, owing to the idea that size equals significance. By contrast Mou, like earlier intimist Paul Klee, proves the old adage that “less can be more” –– especially since the airy openness of his style suggests an expansiveness much greater than the actual size of his paintings. Mou has evolved a personal vocabulary of linear forms, ranging from cursive swirls and sensual arabesques to geometric forms and biomorphic shapes that appear to be derived from natural, often botanical sources. These sources are spelled out most explicitly in the especially graceful composition entitled “Bamboo.” Characteristically, however, this acrylic painting on paper, with its dancing green lines and circular pink forms, is hardly naturalistic or formularized in the manner of traditional Eastern painting, in which bamboo is a time-honored genre. Rather, Mou gives his own imaginative interpretation of the subject in a composition that is essentially abstract. In another composition called “Connexions” –– this one in blue and red –– sharper, more jagged linear shapes come into play, reminiscent of craggy mountain peaks. And in “Flying Metal,” the composition is animated by flamboyantly flowing yet sharp-edged forms that project an almost antic sense of movement. Fred Mou is an unusual artist for his unique ability to create considerable excitement with a severely limited formal vocabulary. However, the austerity of his approach works wonderfully in his favor by imbuing his work with a combination of strength, grace, and precision unlike anything else that immediately springs to mind. Some of his compositions evoke floral forms, while others suggest fantastic landscapes or futuristic cities that can exist only in the dreams of a former architect like himself. All are possessed of a peculiar magic, sometimes fanciful, often mysterious. They invite the viewer into a fascinating private world, hermetic and rarefied. Unlike so much art today, they see no need to scream, “Look at me!” Sometimes, as these works show, whispers can be more seductive than screams. In any case, the paintings of Fred Mou are a refreshing reprise from the more bombastic aspects of today’s art world. And one gets the distinct impression that they will be around long after more showy talents have been forgotten. –– written by Maurice Taplinger

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