Review by Merridawn Duckler
An extraordinarily gifted drawer with an eye for ethereal coloration and an obsessive, Nick Mauss’ almost fussy sensibility nevertheless manages to be both authoritative and dream-like. Including views of a 2011 installation, color plates of works on paper, drawings, silkscreen, pastels, charcoal and pencil and two essays, one by Mauss and one by fellow artist Michaela Eichwald, this catalogue must stand in place of a more comprehensive examination of Mauss—one hopes that is coming soon.
Mauss deploys visual metaphors of the torn, blocked and fallen to create psychological spaces that, as one interviewer has said of his figures “makes me wonder whether they are caught fleeing or still in a state of emerging.” Architectural motif provides the psychological screen around which figurative images both hide and reveal themselves. In Umrandung (the word means “fringe”) (2009) a stunningly colored figure stands behind a faintly incised brick wall manipulating a collaged sphere and in Untitled, (2011) two embrace on an edifice less behind or between than living among them.
Mauss has said “…one of the reasons I’m attracted to drawing, [because] it’s a kind of a secondary medium. Drawings can be casual, humble and simultaneously vague and very direct.” He deeply understands this “secondary” medium and uses it to demonstrate his technical mastery unapologetically. One wonders if this accounts for why his work is sometimes considered un-modern, as if skillful drawing was hopelessly démodé.
A decidedly more modern aspect has been the inspiration of literature, which Mauss has spoken of as an important influence on his work. Several pieces make overt references to books (I am working without knowing too well on what, and I am writing this on the side, 2011) and pieces such as an untitled 2010 silkscreen make a book-like space from a removed rectangle. Still one senses this is much more about the materiality of paper and making marks on paper then language. What links these influences–architectural and literary—is the use of surface treatment as a fundamental domain of personal reference. It’s as if all walls were a canvas. Perhaps because of this, although there is nothing childish about Mauss’s work, innocence haunts it.
The memoir-ish piece by Michaela Eichwald, in both German and English, charms with her enthusiasm but her information doesn’t expand beyond the post-card level. Here are two artists who seem to work at opposite ends of the spectrum yet have a great deal in common—it’s disappointing she doesn’t choose to speak to any of that.
Mauss’s own essay is a lot more interesting. Entitled “Whenever the Nervous System is Described” the essay pays homage to Christian Berard’s oeuvre and I guess evidently a single extant room of Berard’s, a current day beauty salon where cosmetologists “distribute cosmetics around the surface of your face.” In these rooms—and in Berards’ life—Mauss takes inspiration from a once-hidden social order. Tracing the impact of these ghostly imagined rooms on his own work, Mauss describes a “alternative, lacelike genealogy” that links present day gay culture, with it closeted past. The essay sheds new light on Mauss’s floating faces, the scribbled out, the fragmentary and the nearly touching. In this way Mauss’s essay functions much like his deft, magical drawings. He has provided the artistry; it is left to us to connect the lines.
Nick Mauss, Come And Interrupt Me, (Midway Contemporary Art, 2012)
Images: Cover and interior from Come and Interrupt Me