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Neil Clements was interviewed by Hannah Hughes on 6 September 2016
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In the exhibition ‘Out of Nowhere: A presentation of Jeremy Moon's work by Neil Clements’, currently on view at PEER and Large Glass, artist Neil Clements has selected a number of original paintings and drawings by Moon, which are presented alongside his own ‘didactic’ sculpture. Here, Neil Clements talks to Hannah Hughes about tackling the role of one artist advocating another, and the dynamics of this engagement within the present exhibition.
HH I thought that we could start by talking about the background to the exhibition. I understand that Out of Nowhere relates to your present PhD research, which focuses on the analysis of 1960s British Abstract Art. I'm interested to know what led you to the work of Jeremy Moon?
NC The research project as a whole grew from a longstanding interest I’ve had as a practitioner in abstract art made in Britain during the 1960s. This is something that dates back to when I was still an undergraduate painting student. It was only a little later that I started to formulate more concrete ideas about what I found so compelling about it, and specifically to go about differentiating it from the American abstraction that is commonly regarded as the canonical work of the period.
My first awareness of Jeremy Moon’s practice was the result of coming across a catalogue for his 1976 Serpentine retrospective, by chance, in the library of the Glasgow School of Art. I ended up borrowing it quite a lot, largely because I couldn’t entirely establish why I thought the paintings illustrated in it were so good. It’s a very slender little publication and it became a private point of reference for me. Again, it was only later that I began to meet other people who had also formed the same kind of relationship with the work, and I realised Moon was a cult painter of sorts.
Installation View: ‘Out of Nowhere’ at PEER. Photo: FXP Photography
HH In the gallery communications for Out of Nowhere, your role has been defined
as the ‘presenter’ of Moon’s work. The term ‘curator’ here has been very consciously
avoided. Through the insertion of your own didactic sculptural installation in the
space at PEER gallery, which projects paintings by Moon that you have digitally re-
NC The exhibition at PEER originated as a two-
The selection of archival material at Large Glass conforms much more to what I would consider to be curatorial activity, although this too requires us to distinguish between two separate conceptions of what that means. Curatorial practice is nowadays an extremely broad field, with, as you say, no shortage of artists fashioning themselves in that mode. As an experimental platform it has given rise to a new category of professional, whose position is somewhere between what were traditionally understood to be the institutional and artistic spheres. For me though, the term will never fully relinquish its managerial connotations, which in turn presumes a kind of immaterial engagement with its subject. In even the most innovative examples provided by this new industry, the overall display remains the curator’s product, not any specific artwork that appears within it. As such it’s not that I have any particular antipathy to being regarded as a curator in the expanded sense that it is now understood, more that I felt this indicated my role was positioned ‘outside’ as opposed to ‘inside’ the exhibition itself. The distinction is a relatively subtle one, given how closely curatorial activities have come to resemble artistic ones, and I’m not sure how intelligible the term ‘presenter’ was as a result, but it was settled on as a way to signal my joint role as a physical participant and general advocate of Moon.
HH The sculpture we have just been discussing (Didactic Sculpture: Middle Class
Anglo Saxon, 2013/2016) overtly references the open form of Early One Morning by
Anthony Caro (Moon’s contemporary and friend) from 1962. By looking at Moon’s work
‘through the lens’ of Caro’s work, you seem to be underlining the importance of biography
in the understanding of Moon’s work. Does this come close to your original intentions?
NC This is true to some extent, but the background to how the sculpture came to
be included is worth explaining. It was originally built for an exhibition that was
held in CCA Derry-
So the decision to re-
HH Your approach to examining Moon's archive could be described as forensic -
NC Like the sculpture, I consider these slides to be reverse-
Similarly, remaking five years’ worth of Moon’s paintings as vector files was a means
by which to better understand the process by which his practice evolved. This was
mainly to examine the points at which the logic informing a work appears to be extrapolated
from the previous one, and the points at which a dramatic and difficult-
HH Moon's paintings are often acknowledged as containing an element of humour,
through their joyful use of colour and precariously-
NC It’s not that they’re funny per se, but it’s never been clear to me whether we’re supposed to take a painting by Jeremy Moon entirely seriously. It’s this equivocal quality I find so attractive. Similarly, I would like my own activities to be interpretable in more than one way.
Jeremy Moon, English Rose, 1967. Acrylic on shaped canvas.
Jeremy Moon, Shadows, 1965. Acrylic on shaped canvas.
HH You have identified a playful contradiction between ideas of labour and leisure in Moon’s work. Can you explain this a little more?
NC These categories could be just as easily be rephrased as the intellectual aspects
of the work and their more sensual properties. However, a dialectical opposition
of labour and leisure was something I began to use as a means of trying to access
a series of qualities I felt to be present in the artworks themselves, but which
are actively suppressed by formal methods of analysis: the social and economic conditions
that underpinned the production of large scale, hard-
HH The ‘value’ of painting, and perhaps its recent return to prominence, can be
attributed to the ideas of labour embedded in the process of making, with importance
placed on the direct indexical relationship between the artist and the painting.
I’m always touched by the ‘handmade’ quality of reductive or hard-
NC It is always a surprise for me to see the real thing, especially given how typically we now engage with reproductions of artworks. Our tendency to equate masking tape bleed with human expression probably begins with Barnett Newman, an artist held in especially high esteem by Moon and other British painters of the period. And there was certainly a more pragmatic approach to paint handling then, something that has become more mannered as time has gone on. However, I think it would be wrong to interpret the authorial claims this kind of work makes as lying wholly in an indexical relation between a painter and their surfaces. By making abstraction that was so graphically reductive, these artists were also laying claim to an intellectual terrain that extended to their circulation in print.
The process of remaking Moon’s paintings refers in particular to the uncredited labour
of those printers who made lithographic facsimiles for magazines and catalogues.
For example, the colour reproduction of Moon’s painting Mandarin that appears in
the publication for the 1965 exhibition London: The New Scene is actually an artificially-
I am obviously aware there’s something perverse about my preoccupation with abstract painters from another milieu, and that this in turn relates to broader questions of appropriation and artistic agency. It’s worth mentioning too that I would have encountered Moon’s work at around the same time as I first read seminal texts on the topic, like Thomas Crow’s ‘the Return of Hank Herron.’ But whereas artworks of the kind Crow described act to usurp the auratic quality of the original work, I wanted to produce a more ambiguous relationship. This is all the more important in a critical climate, where terms like ‘zombie abstraction’ are being freely used to describe paintings that have too complacent a relationship with existing ones. I would much prefer my position to appear problematised than cynical.
Neil Clements, Didactic Structure: Middle Class Anglo Saxon, 2013/2016. Steel, aluminium, slide projector. Photo: FXP Photography
Jeremy Moon, Portfolio of 27 sheets. Inventory drawings of all the paintings made
by Jeremy Moon, 1962 -
HH Movement and sound play a large role in ‘Didactic Sculpture’, with the whirring and rotating of the carousel punctuating the silence of the gallery space. Was this important? Can you tell me more about your decision to use a slide carousel rather than a digital device, for example?
NC Thankfully, when I’m asked to deliver a lecture I don’t have to use a slide
projector, but in my mind it still remains the symbolic apparatus of the art history
department, and this is a kind of affiliation I’ve cultivated in a number of related
works. Transferring the imagery to 35mm slide film also has the effect of softening
up what on a digital projector would have looked very harsh, something that makes
the images appear more like the kind of tipped-
Jeremy Moon, Working drawing (Time Magazine, April 16, 1965). Pencil on paper.
HH Matthew Collings has written that Moon’s art “is better appreciated detached from its time of origin”. Do you agree with this sentiment – and if so, what concerns could it be said to share with contemporary abstract painting?
NC I am inclined to agree; an unfortunate by-
Installation View: ‘Out of Nowhere’ at Large Glass, London, 14 July – 17 September 2016. Photo: Alex Delfanne
HH As we can tell from his own writings during the 1970s, Moon appears to have
felt that there was little support for British abstract painting in the period following
the Situation show a decade earlier, and he was also particularly wary of the opinions
of what he saw as a new order of 'non-
NC Moon’s frustration arose in part from the shortness of the period of time during
which painting of the type he was making was seen as critically relevant. If we take
his first exhibition at Rowan Gallery, and the publication of his 1971 polemic ‘Enemies
of Painting’, as the beginning and end points, the equivalent would be having begun
a career in 2007, and by 2016 feeling as though you were being sidelined. It’s not
very long at all, especially when you consider the critical currency that the subsequent
generation of (more conceptually-
There is something very idealistic about Moon wanting his paintings to be understood in such an exclusively visual sense. While I can’t quite reconcile myself to such a purist outlook, it’s still something I very much admire. Perhaps we should be trying to appreciate how radical a stance this was at the time, and the considerable leap of faith that it entailed.
All images courtesy of the estate of Jeremy Moon, PEER and Large Glass, London.
Neil Clements will be in conversation with David Batchelor at PEER on Tuesday, 13 September, 6.30 to 8.00pm (
Jeremy Moon, Drawing [28/12/72] 1972, Pencil on paper, Photo: Anna Arca.