Abstract artist Carrie Moyer discussed her life and her relationship with art during a Monday night lecture in Milstein Auditorium.

Avonlea Matheny / Sun Contributor

Abstract artist Carrie Moyer discussed her life and her relationship with art during a Monday night lecture in Milstein Auditorium.

October 2, 2018

Feminist Painter Shares Relationship Between Art and Activism Through Political Art

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All eyes were fixed on abstract painter Carrie Moyer as her flashing images of colorful shadows filled the projector screen. Moyer, a well-known artist, gave a talk about her life and relationship with art on Monday night in Milstein Auditorium.

Jumping from Oregon, Washington to California throughout her childhood, Moyer was so convinced of her destiny in New York that she never learned how to drive.

“I moved to New York the minute I could possibly do that because I thought that was where one became an artist,” she said.

Inspired by 80s painters like Lee Krasner and Bill Jensen during her undergraduate years at the Pratt Institute, Moyer created her own playful pieces like vortexes of vibrant and contrasting colors and brush strokes that she now calls “too much-ness.” She became the “only young intern” for Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, a magazine that existed from the 70s to the 90s.

After receiving her B.F.A. from Pratt, Moyer began Dyke Action Machine! in 1991 with photographer Sue Schaffner. The NYC-based public art project sparked her devotion to artistic activism through agitprop, or political propaganda in art. It became her space between activism and the art world.

At the time, “[queer, gay, lesbian, transgender figures] were virtually invisible,” she said. “This project was about inserting ourselves into places that we were not being seen — images of women with agency, with an empowered sense, in a place as mundane as an ad on the street or subway.”

Pasting her art next to advertisements in the streets of New York, Moyer sought to make a change once thought impossible through painting. Her work for Dyke Action Machine! and Lesbian Avengers, a lesbian activist group, featured slogans like “Run Bush Run! The Lesbians are Coming” and “Come Out! Join the Gay Liberation Front,” during an unprecedented “outing” movement at the time. Other Moyer paintings satirized the “gay gene” phenomenon including Pat the Bunny, named after her mother, which shows a young girl reaching up her mother’s skirt.

“Feminist painting in the 70s was pretty much rejected because of its patriarchal history,” she said. “So, in a way, I am sort of making up a history.”

Never finding a role model as a young artist, Moyer sought to do what she could truly connect with on her own, which was to paint the desires of women artists prior to her. Her main medium, acrylic paint, challenges the historical attachment of art to great male painters with its novelty.

She said that her intricate and “nonsensical” abstract painting style invites you in while keeping you at the surface. With water, paint and a 96-inch canvas, she said her art comes to life through manual manipulation.

“What I hope, as somebody who writes a lot, is that paintings and visuals outstrip language in a certain way,” she said. “There’s so much more here than I could ever talk about.”

In 2004, her abstract paintings were featured alongside wife Sheila Pepe’s sculpture of a thousand shoelaces knotted together in the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art exhibition called “Two Women: Carrie Moyer and Sheila Pepe.” Pepe was a visiting associate professor in Cornell’s Department of Art in 2015.

Moyer received her M.F.A. from Bard College in 2000. She is now a professor and director of the M.F.A. program in studio art at Hunter College and is represented by the D.C. Moore Gallery in New York. Her new schedule keeps her from starting mural projects in public places, like she once did with her agitprop.

“I would love to do a subway station, it appeals to my ‘art for the people’ feeling,” she said. “Some of my happiest moments are walking through different people’s stations.”