Garden of Earthly Delights

Two painters at Temple Gallery take two routes to works about color, form and light

Tim Mosman and Hank Tusinski have the same philosophy of painting but you might not guess it by looking at their works.

Abstractionist Mosman delights in pure color and form. In his rapturous paintings, layered pigments swoop across the paper or canvas in energetic curves and darting lines.

Modern-day impressionist Tusinski, like his painterly forebears, is inspired by the light-dazzled landscape of southern France. His acrylic paintings lovingly evoke vineyards and French maisons and Mediterranean tides. As he says, quoting the great post-impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, "The landscape thinks itself in me, and I am its consciousness."

At the entrance to their dual show Fanaux at the Temple Gallery, two paintings hanging side by side pointedly illustrate the artists' differences.

Tusinski's "Lilies Peonies Anemones," 2016, is a classic impressionist flower study, picturing pastel-colored posies in a vase. Painting in acrylics on hardboard, Tusinski has made small daubs of pink and sky blue and green that coalesce into petals and stamens and stems—images drawn from real world.

"Lilies" adjoins Mosman's "Notebook Painting: Rothko's Soul," an abstraction that pays homage to Mark Rothko, the abstract expressionist who painted bands of pure color. Mosman likewise has a simple composition, but he trades in Rothko's rectangles for circles.

A loosely painted ring of rose-red gouache curls above an irregular yellow oval. Underneath, thick brushstrokes of white gouache zip the cheap paper, torn from a notebook. This lively abstraction in garden colors is the closest Mosman is going to get to flowers.

How could artists with such different aesthetics put together a single show?

As the pair explain in a wall text, the exhibition's title, Fanaux, is not only the name of the neighborhood in southern France that inspired Tusinski's new suite of paintings. It is also a French word for the flares that ancient Romans and Greeks once used to guide nighttime seafarers. They would pour oil into the hollows of seaside rocks and set it afire.

To Mosman and Tusinski, who are life partners, these blazes of light are a metaphor for painting, which they see as a "process that literally and figuratively involves coaxing form from the formless, light from the darkness."

In other words, all art is abstract: even landscapes as recognizable as Tusinski's are translations of objective reality into paint and shapes and shadows.

This past spring, Tusinski, who last year created a sumptuous Day of the Dead installation at the Tucson Museum of Art, wandered around a French hill town, sketching and taking photographs and painting. He made a point of getting outside just before daybreak. His finished painting "Ramatuelle Village" captures the geometry of the dense village center, its buildings' red roofs and white-washed facades glimmering in the day's first light. Another of his nine paintings, "Sunrise Fanaux," casts the rural landscape in the gold of full dawn.

Tusinski's images of the region's grape estates celebrate what he calls the "delirium of the vineyards," and that euphoria brings him closer to Mosman's wilder aesthetic. Though the plants in "Vineyard in Fanaux" have been sown in tidy rows, the dancing vines are twisted and contorted.

The artist's six ink sketches of rural scenes come even closer to Mosman's free-form images. The lines in Tusinski's wild black drawings writhe and roil as crazily as those grape vines do. Dashing madly across the paper, in a delirium, this time, of near-abstraction, they give no more than a glancing nod to the real life barns and spires that inspired them.

Mosman, the longtime exhibition designer and preparator at the Center for Creative Photography, long ago embraced pure abstraction. Inspired by Twombly, deKooning and Guston, he paints quickly, making "non-objective" shapes and lines in wide brushstrokes of gorgeous colors.

At the Temple Gallery show, Mosman has two large paintings and 10 small ones, all of them beautiful. "Mirrored," a big oil on canvas, six and a half feet high by six feet wide, is a whirligig of swirling curves in pinks, blues of all shades, white and burnt sienna. "Faster, Faster," an ink and gesso on paper, is a similar dancing dervish in riveting black, white and gray.

But the small works are perhaps the most exhilarating. Nine "Notebook Paintings" gathered into a grid on the wall are all painted in gouache on cheap beige paper. Each of the paintings—just 11 inches high and eight and a half inches wide—has only a few colors.

In "Winging," fire-engine red line rockets across black and white. "Eve" is a gorgeous royal blue, and "Zoo" has bold strokes of amber-orange—not unlike Tusinksi's golden dawn—along with pink ovals and brushy strokes of white.

Mosman works in a stream-of-consciousness style, and apparently names the works when they are finished. The paintings become Rorschach blots of sorts, suggesting objects from real life. Those red zigzags in “Winging” do look like the flapping wings of a bird – or bug. Once we read the title “Eve,” it’s hard not to see a woman in its bold blue rectangles. And the gold and pink shapes in “Zoo?” Most definitely—if inadvertently—a monkey.

In a sense Mosman is traveling from abstraction to figuration. If figurative art like Tusinski’s makes its way toward the non-objective, Mosman’s takes the opposite route, traveling back from the world of pure painting to the world we see around us.