The artist Jill Moon, a university professor, painter, set designer, glass artist and doll maker who passed away this July, was a painter of distinct style and approach who hadn't been given a great deal of critical notice during her too-short life. This would due in large part, though, to the fact that she retired from public life soon after she left her teaching position in set design and art history at Cornell. She did some design work for the theater, but she had no showings that I can remember. She willingly pursued an anonymity that was her right. Jill didn't stop making art, however, and indeed her productivity as prodigious and prolific. Jill Moon's otherworldly figuration was a marvel. She was a dear friend of mine for the better part of thirty years and change, and it was my good fortune to "see her in action" as she took to the canvas with her paints, brushes and assorted implements. Jill had a sense of how to bring the incongruous together and make it make work as if the disparate details--a fairy in a pope's Miter, leotards and a polka dot skirt, a red/green/orange trout standing upward blowing blue bubbles, a rainbow-crested dandelion waiting patiently for the fairy and the fish to notice its glorious impersonation of an umbrella--belonged in the same space.
There was a painting Jill had done for a show of hers at UCSD that featured small, mischievous devils scattered about the color-saturated straits of a particular portrait. Someone asked her what they were and she explained, laughing so slightly, that "...they were devils playing with the other things in the painting. I painted them because because I like them. What they mean is private. Actually, I'm not even sure if I know what they mean..."
I wouldn't doubt that at the time Jill would have to create something that would contextualize the leitmotifs and tropes and her use of a flat style in order for a critical appreciation to be applied and calm those minds that demand how the contents of painting operates as a critique of how we live, but in the moment of creation and long afterward, she was taken with the joy of creating this space where instinct,, dreams, mystery and ominous ritual, combined in the odd and angular ways that fit Jill's idea of allowing forms migrate, mutate, associate as they may.
Jill was as taken with the idea that art had no commitment to reaffirm or even threaten an audiences' shared cosmologies; the artist wasn't required to speak to how the world does or does not work, or dwell in the joys or depressions that art lovers might project on the campus. I remember Jill , in one of those graduate student bull sessions at the Pub following an art show she had been featured in, reflecting on the ideas of Derrida and deconstruction and the insight that because meaning is not fixed in a text, whether be it book, painting, movie, play, saying that she gave her art over to the idea of play. "I don't think art needs to be about anything," she said firmly. I don't recall what she followed that declaration with, but I do recall many a conversation that artists can only be responsible for making the art and making sure that the pieces they introduce to the world have their own integrity, on their terms. "What the painting means isn't my job," she said at one point, "that would kill the happiness someone else could have creating their own meaning and sharing it with others."
The poetic analogs are obvious, I think, the first being Ars Poetica by Archibald McLeish
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,
As old medallions to the thumb,
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—
A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,
Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.
A poem should be equal to:
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—
A poem should not mean