Richard Lewis Roth

I've been developing this series, which I call Moop, since 1974. In that year I was doing a series of paintings that loosely involved stripes. In one painting I determined to make a stripe effect by spontaneously drawing parallel strings of abstract linear shapes (in the spirit of the surrealist artist, Andre Masson). The intended stripe effect pleased me, but it was the character of the individual shapes that surprised me. I had stumbled on some unsuspected aspect of myself. That painting became Moop #1.

Those parallel strings of shapes had a calligraphic quality suggesting the writing of an exotic language. Independently of my painting, I've had an interest in the study of language. I had the idea of associating my two interests by assigning sound values to the various shapes so they became a kind of alphabet, although with peculiar and awkward rules.

With some exceptions, the Moop paintings spell out brief thoughts of mine, or random expressions, usually the names of authors or composers or of their works that I recently enjoyed. I don't consider the meaning content of the writing, whether Moop or otherwise (generally illegible anyway, except to me), as of any significance for the visual value of the painting. However it serves me in mobilizing my forces in making the painting.

I see four reasons for the early appearance of a phonetic system in my work.

1. Playfulness. I have an interest in language. It appealed to me in a playful way to organize a symbol system in the context of visual art.

2. Random generators. A word or a sentence loosely generates an often unforeseen combination of shapes. Furthermore, the abundance of possible combinations provides a richness of problems and possibilities in the connectings of the shapes with each other.

3. Routine usage. By attaching a phonetic value to a shape, frequent use of the shape is encouraged. This framework for routine usage allows driftings and evolvings of the shapes, which I could not achieve by imagination alone. My model for this is how language itself seems to change.

4. Enlisting verbal energies for visual purposes. As suggested, I introduced the phonetic system as a device to enhance visual possibilities, the verbal content being incidental. However, perhaps feelings that I attach to certain words and expressions affect in a subtle way the visual character of the work as I "write" out the shapes. If I cultivate this tendency, intellectual, literary and poetic energies of my mind can augment my visual energies and help keep my work developing.

For these reasons I consider myself to be a "word artist." Unlike artists who use readable alphabetic words, the final result in my case is usually an unreadable (except by me), a composition of my moop shapes. For exhibiting, when desired, I would provide a scanned marked image with a list of the sounds of the moop shapes.(Rarely I will bring in some alphabetic letters to accompany subordinately my moop characters).

The Moop series has evolved over its 35 years. There has been a gradual increase in the number of characters, now over 200, and the categories of characters. There have been periodic experiments in the use of color on the basic black and white idea. There has been the introduction of "non-Moop" elements such as a shorthand I invented long before Moops, and my idiosyncratic version of regular cursive script. At one period I developed patterns inspired by the textiles of the Kuba people of the Congo region. I've introduced certain highly rule-governed geometric elements as in Moop 209. I try to enliven the imagery with expressionistic devices of sprinkling splattering smearing and scribbling. I used the scanner and computer to create three Moop fonts and used all of them in Moop 222.

Although my work has a phonetic system and uses abstract expressionistic and other more recent ideas, I consider it, being idiosyncratic and compositional, to be abstraction in the spirit of earlier artists such as Miro, Klee and Kandinsky.

Recently I've been doing some Moops in oil and in some, in a bow to Marcel Duchamp, I've been scattering the phonetic shapes according to a randomizing system so that rather than reading them left to right and top down, one must follow dotted or dashed lines from the starting letter to the next to the next, with the winding lines being a further visual effect. Moop 267.

In the past, as a student, I did some sculpture. I worked with abstract forms and enjoyed it. To me sculpture means shape in environment. Sometimes, in a fanciful way, I look at my Moop shapes as two dimensional sculptures, and at some of my compositions as miniature sculpture gardens. Whether it’s fanciful to call my Moop shapes sculptures I do affirm that they are individual art works and therefore one could consider a Moop painting as an artwork of artworks in the analogy of, for example, a musical ensemble where the art of each instrumentalist is enlisted for the total work.

In that regard, although I call my work abstract, it might also have a representational aspect—I am copying elements of the real world, namely from my list of moop shapes, onto my painting.

Although I have my opinions and feelings about human affairs, when it comes to my art I am just concerned with my idea of beauty, with making works for pleasurable contemplation. That is what I intend, whatever else might be inferred.

I try to make my work so I can enjoy looking at it.



I repeat the earlier link if you're interested: a kind of alphabet (The Moop Writing System).