Carrie Moyer (b. 1960) was born in Detroit, MI, and lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Her vibrant paintings and works on paper critically interrogate the formal and conceptual conventions of painting while embracing an approach to abstraction rooted in optical pleasure. Moyer’s playful compositions, layered surfaces, and fluid forms, which freely oscillate between abstraction and representation, speak not only to her commitment to feminist political theory, but also to her deep investment in art history. As she explains, “What is political about my painting is its basis in my own experience. The work engages the history of 20th-century painting from the margins, a position defined by humor, exuberance, and disruption.”
Moyer studied modern dance at Bennington College before receiving her BFA from Pratt Institute, an MA in computer graphic design from New York Institute of Technology, and an MFA in painting from Bard College. While at Pratt, Moyer interned at Heresies, the seminal feminist journal on art and politics. After graduating, Moyer continued her social activism, creating a series of agitprop posters and works on paper. This early body of work, which explored the representation of queer women in mainstream media, led to the formation of Dyke Action Machine! (DAM!; 1991–2004), a collaborative public art project with the photographer Sue Schaffner. Inserting imagery of borderline stereotypical lesbian identity into various commercial contexts, Moyer and Schaffner plastered high-volume poster campaigns across the city. Often pasting over existing advertisements with their own agitprop images that centered and celebrated queer women, DAM! challenged the heteronormative nature of societal representation. Upon returning to painting, Moyer recalls, “part of the friction was how could I bring the sentiment and urgency of the agitprop I’d made for queer organizations and Dyke Action Machine! into the studio. How does one render it through abstraction?”
Moyer’s history of social activism informs her approach to painting, which marries the graphic flatness of her posters with the more sensual material qualities of the medium. Expanding on processes common to Color Field painters, her practice involves drawing, pouring, staining, rolling, sprinkling, and mopping. At the same time, Moyer also employs strategies and techniques found in graphic design. Achieving multidimensional effects through gradation, transparency, and shadows, Moyer builds her images layer-by-layer, using thin veils of aqueous color, mirrored images, and outlined biomorphic forms. Her techniques obfuscate her paintings’ making to forward an unfettered, sensorial approach to looking—one divorced from the technical mechanics of construction. Further emphasizing the sensorial, since 1999, Moyer has incorporated glitter into her work. For the artist, glitter injects the “material language of queerness” into her compositions. “For me, glitter signified disco and gay icons such as Sylvester,” she explains. “… [Glitter represented] this other part of my life that seemingly didn’t jive with the seriousness of a painting practice.” Decades later, glitter has become a signature element in her paintings that, per Moyer, “draws a different kind of light to the canvas.”
Just as Moyer combines different techniques and media in her paintings, so too does she draw on a variety of source material to inform her compositions. Alluding to the natural world, yet transcending specific references, her approach centers feminist ideologies while simultaneously recalling the unexpected juxtapositions of Surrealists, who, like Moyer, sought to establish “new relationships, and new possibilities.” As the writer and critic Lauren O’Neill-Butler summarizes, “Moyer recommits to form and formalism in order to blow both up—that is, to show how abstraction is never really a retreat from gender or identity but rather one way of opening up new and exhilarating ideas about embodiment.”
Ultimately for Moyer, the disparate bodies of work that define her extensive practice, the agitprop posters and paintings, are one and the same. Together, they shed light onto gender politics while also expanding and destabilizing traditional notions of abstraction. The artist concludes, “The posters and paintings share a declarative, public-facing voice that is transmitted through the use of symmetry and other framing devices, melding the idealistic fervor of twentieth-century abstraction and agitprop with a metaphysics of the lesbian body.”
Moyer’s work has been widely exhibited in one-person and group presentations, including Carrie Moyer and Sheila Pepe: Tabernacles for Trying Times, Portland Museum of Art, ME (2020), traveled to Museum of Arts and Design, New York (2021); Carrie Moyer: Pirate Jenny, The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY (2013), traveled to Canzani Center Gallery, Columbus College of Art and Design, OH (2014); and SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA (2014); Carrie Moyer: Interstellar, Worcester Art Museum, MA (2012); and Carrie Moyer: Painting Propaganda, American University Museum at the Katzen Center for the Arts, Washington, D.C. (2009), among others. Other recent exhibitions include Queer Abstraction, Des Moines Art Center, IA (2019), traveled to Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, KS (2019); Aftereffect: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Painting, Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, CO (2019); Inherent Structures, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (2018); Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2017); Agitprop!, Brooklyn Museum, New York (2015), among others. The artist’s works are represented in prominent collections, including Birmingham Museum of Art, AL; Des Moines Art Center, IA; The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga, NY; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, MA; Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including Civitella Ranieri Fellowship, Perugia, Italy (2019); National Academician, National Academy of Design (2019); American Academy of Arts & Letters (2018); Guggenheim Fellowship (2013): Anonymous Was A Woman (2009); and Art Matters Fellowship (1994). Moyer is a Professor and the Co-Director of the graduate studio program at Hunter College in New York. She is also on the Board of Governors at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.