Lush, sensuous, and enigmatic, Jesse Mockrin’s paintings are markedly contemporary, yet beautifully allude to the past. The Progress of Love, the artist’s current show at Night Gallery in Los Angeles, is inspired both by current trends in men’s fashion and 18th century Rococo scenes. Aesthetically, Mockrin is drawn to Rococo’s luxurious depictions of wild foliage and ornate clothing, but her interest also extends into the realm of gender politics, which she explores with precise, careful brushstrokes.
“The men and women in the Rococo are both powdered and rouged. They might both be depicted with flowers in their hair. The men's clothing in the period incorporated satiny fabric, embroidery, floral prints, ruffles and lace. Although those are things we would generally associate more with women's clothing now, it is their resurgence in contemporary menswear and the dissolving of those gender boundaries that first led me to make the visual connection with Rococo,” Mockrin tells The Creators Project.
Gender relations in Rococo paintings are traditional, but, like the depiction of wild gardens, not without a dose of hedonism. Fragonard’s landmark Rococo painting, The Swing, for example, depicts a man pushing his wife on a swing, her shoe falling off her foot, only to be collected by her lover, who is hidden from her husband by an overgrowth of foliage. Mockrin crops this scene down to the dainty foot, lost shoe, and presumptuous, plucking hand. Of course, Mockrin does more than crop and copy: her style is more cartoon-like than the 1766 original, with clear, flat spaces of color giving the painting a graphic feeling, cleaning up the feathery daintiness of her Rococo inspirations.
“The Swing by Fragonard is probably the most recognizable reference in the show, followed perhaps by the dress in my painting Bloom, which was inspired by Boucher’s Madame de Pompadour. To me, these two works, as well as others from the period from which I borrow for this show, are emblematic of overall Rococo themes I explore and play with in the work,” says Mockrin.
The artist has worked with oils since she was a teenager, drawn to the natural feeling of the paint as opposed to acrylics, and the paint’s ability to be reworked over and over. Beginning with a dark ground and layering lighter pigments on top, the textures become less photorealistic, yet more luminous. Working without paint-thinning mediums like turpentine or linseed oil, Mockrin builds rich, matte surfaces.
“I often work from drawings and photographs, but I freehand everything on the canvas. That process at times involves revisions: moving the eyes closer together or farther apart, raising or lowering an ear, or sometimes redrawing a hand several times until I'm happy with it. Oil gives me the freedom to do that and to follow what my eye views as right,” she elaborates.
These surreal surface textures pair well with Mockrin’s compositional choice to crop her subjects in unnatural ways—so just one hand, or the top of a woman’s flower crown-adorned head, for example, is the subject of a scene otherwise occupied by wildlife.
“The Rococo body is fluid, the gestures flowing and theatrical. The pinkie fingers are raised. It is these dramatic and romantic themes I am drawn to; a world that does not and cannot exist outside of the illusory space of painting,” Mockrin says.
The Progress of Love is on view at Night Gallery until April 16.