Library of Forms

Tim Mosman shows his fluid, shifting works at Conrad Wilde

Tim Mosman is doing a dance inside Conrad Wilde Gallery. He stands in front of one of his ink drawings, and demonstrates how he works.

"I have a table, paper, ink and gesso," he says, conjuring up the room in Mexico where he made the drawing. Then he raises his arm as though he's taking aim with a brush. He pivots, then pounces. "I make a move and make my first marks. Then I take the paper and put it on the floor. I get four to five pieces going at once."

Mosman's art choreography--fluid, shifting, full-body--might produce three or four finished drawings in a day. He goes from table to floor, from piece to piece, adding and subtracting black lines and passages of white. "I go back and forth, from negative to positive, to putting white over the top. The whole process is organic and fluid."

The artist did nothing but draw when he traveled to Guanajuato this fall. His partner, Hank Tusinski, a photographer and sculptor, was out in the city enjoying the Day of the Dead celebrations, but Mosman secluded himself in their rental house. After two weeks, he came up with 18 finished drawings.

Three of the Guanajuato pieces are in his jewel box of a show at Wilde, Over and Under, along with one large painting on canvas, multiple gouaches on paper, and drawings in graphite, charcoal and ink. (The gallery is also exhibiting paintings by Garry Mitchell of Maine and Emilia Arana of Tucson.)

The Guanajuato drawings are full of energetic lines that dart hither and yon, the same way that Mosman dances with his materials as he works. The paper is lush--Mosman prefers thick printmaking or watercolor paper--and the white swathes of gesso read as color, over and under the black line. Even the big oil on canvas, "Stop Gap," has the limited palette of a drawing. Black lines careen around the canvas, hinting at a figure. White gesso is dashed on like ghostly paint, though hints of ocher come through the edges.

The little gouache paintings, by contrast, are richly colored. "Jewel," 2008, is a tangle of brick, yellow and bright red, with paint strokes zipping all over the surface. "Bridge Painting" has wild lines of white and gray--vaguely bridgelike--over passages of olive green. Mosman, a staffer at the Center for Creative Photography, is a "painter's painter," gallery director Miles Conrad notes. But for all the rich layering of pigment, even Mosman's paintings are kind of like drawings.

"I'm a draw-er," he says, making the verb into a noun. "Artists say my paintings are like drawings. There's so much of the linear element. All of my work has a basis in drawing."

An Iowa farm boy, Mosman actually majored in drawing at the University of Iowa, first as an undergrad, then as a grad student. Naturally, he had to do "tons and tons" of figure drawing. Though today, "much of my work has to do with figuration," he hated drawing the nude models and the strange routine of the classes. He was timid in those days, he says. A favorite professor, David Dunlap, helped him loosen up and set his drawings free from ordinary reality.

Dunlap would tell the students that when they confronted a blank piece of paper, they should "hallucinate a shape onto the paper." Even now, Mosman keeps that advice in mind as he builds up his free-form surfaces.

"I look for the first mark. As soon as you get it out, it starts getting easy. This suggests that. That suggests this. You add something. You take something away."

After grad school, Mosman headed west to the San Francisco Bay Area, a more congenial environment than Iowa farm country for a gay man, as he says. He did a second master's at Mills College in Oakland, studying under Jay DeFeo, a noted abstract expressionist painter and friend of the beats. She became a major influence. (The show's "Painting for Jay," a monochrome in gray, white and black, is an homage.)

Like DeFeo and other abstract expressionists, Mosman is "interested in emotional expression. I like continued layering up of marks--they become the substance of the piece. Over time, I've made a library of forms."

During grad school, he began what would become his day career in museums as a preparator and installer. "You could get on a crew at a museum hanging shows. There were half a dozen museums," including the Oakland Museum of California and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "I'd work a couple of weeks at a time." Eventually, he became assistant director of the Mills College Gallery, now the Mills College Art Museum, and began showing his work regularly in galleries.

After he met Tusinski, the pair cast about for a place to buy. Prices in San Francisco were beyond insane, but a half-dozen unrelated people sang the praises of Bisbee. In 1994, they came down to southeastern Arizona and have been in the state ever since. They bought five acres in the countryside between Tombstone and Bisbee, and designed and built a solar-powered house and studio out of straw bale and recycled wood. Mosman also relished delving into his precise side--the opposite number to his dancing-painting side--and started a business making one-of-a-kind pieces of craftsman furniture. He also worked intermittently at the Center for Creative Photography installing shows.

After a while, what with the part-time jobs, the travel to Tucson and the construction projects, he realized he was neglecting his art.

"Projects would keep me from painting for eight months. I asked myself, 'What am I doing? I used to make art.'"

In 2003, he switched to full-time at the CCP--he's now principal preparatory and exhibition designer--bought a small house in Tucson, and began devoting himself entirely to art on weekends and vacations.

"It worked. I have a lot more time to paint. Things are the way they should be. I'm making work."

He had a show at the old Central Arts Gallery in 1998, but his real Tucson debut was at Wilde Gallery two years ago. Now 54, he hopes to show the new work more widely, and to help with that project, he's self-publishing Life Drawing, a book of his images with essays by Albert Stewart, former director of the Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery at Pima Community College, and his boss, Britt Salvesen, director of the CCP.

The two art pros are full of praise for Mosman. Stewart alludes to his "eloquent poetic spaces," and Salvesen lauds him for carrying on the legacy of earlier painters. And his own ambitions are lofty. Conscious of the art-historical tradition, he mixes his own paints out of pigment and primes his canvases with rabbit-skin glue, as early painters did.

"I've never been a commercial success, but I don't really care," he says. "I want to push the envelope with painting and abstraction. I want to do it in the tradition of the great painters who laid it all out before me."

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