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Moan Lisa's small-scale works burst with color, pattern

| Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 8:00 p.m.
'Signs of Nonexistence #001' by Moan Lisa
Moan Lisa
'Signs of Nonexistence #001' by Moan Lisa
'Signs of Nonexistence #054' by Moan Lisa
Moan Lisa
'Signs of Nonexistence #054' by Moan Lisa
'Signs of Nonexistence #045' by Moan Lisa
Moan Lisa
'Signs of Nonexistence #045' by Moan Lisa
'Signs of Nonexistence #015' by Moan Lisa
Moan Lisa
'Signs of Nonexistence #015' by Moan Lisa
'Signs of Nonexistence #055' by Moan Lisa
Moan Lisa
'Signs of Nonexistence #055' by Moan Lisa

The exhibit “Moan Lisa: Signs of Nonexistence,” currently on display at Christine Frechard Gallery in Squirrel Hill, presents new digital-based works by a most curious artist who goes by the name of Moan Lisa.

“Moan Lisa” is the self-assigned moniker of Mark Rossmiller, a digital and mail artist from Iowa City, Iowa.

Mail art (also known as postal art and correspondence art) is a populist artistic movement centered on sending small-scale works through the Postal Service. It initially developed out of the Fluxus movement in the 1950s and '60s, though it has since developed into a global movement that continues to the present day.

Rossmiller began creating visual artwork on a daily basis shortly after the death of his 4-year-old son, Gabriel.

“I have no formal training in art beyond high school,” Rossmiller says. “My main medium is the Postal System; I'm a mail artist and have played with many different formats within that system. The other artistic medium I favor is digital collage; for this, I mainly use the free program Gimp.”

In 2011, when Rossmiller first started creating art on a regular basis, he was working on a series in which he deconstructed pornographic imagery, reworking the figures into pieces based on classical themes.

“I needed a name for the series, so I chose ‘Moan Lisa,' which had elements of both the classical art and pornography in the name,” Rossmiller says. “Eventually, I just absorbed the name as my own working artist name.”

Soon after, in 2012, Rossmiller went on a very intense poetry-writing spree after a breakup with one of his muses, Ana. “I was writing as Maria Morisot, and that's the story behind my poetic alter ego.”

Several of Rossmiller's self-published poetry books are available for $20, all signed by the artist, at the Frechard Gallery.

“I write poetry and have been doing it regularly since I was 19 years old,” says Rossmiller, which explains why he is as prolific a poet as he is an artist.

The 22 works in this exhibit are from Rossmiller's latest series, “Signs of Nonexistence,” in which he takes digital images, female figures mostly, and combines them with pattern and imagery to create something new.

For example, in “Signs of Nonexistence #001,” the first in the series, a solitary female figure predominates, but dissolves into various patterns and imagery, including that of a male figure.

“I most often use the female form as a base for my works,” Rossmiller says. “I am a male in reality, using two different aliases which are both female. I have played a lot with gender in my imaginations.”

In the piece “Signs of Nonexistence #015,” Rossmiller depicts a woman sitting under a chandelier. It was inspired by another image that was mailed to him through his mail art circle.

“I have drawn a lot from the works of those in the mail art network,” Rossmiller says. “We borrow from each other a lot, although the bulk of the remixing done in the network is physical work, not as much digital. But there is a fair amount of each.”

“Signs of Nonexistence #045” is the first piece in this series diverging from the nudes and embracing a wedding dress theme. Here, an elegant figure emerges from a dark background. “There is more shadow-making and appearance now, in an effort to make the layers drop back and bleed forth,” Rossmiller says.

“Over the top of my works, I usually put a layer of colors based around the original image that the picture takes its form from,” he says. “If you look in (‘Signs of Nonexistence #054') and see the strands of hair, you will understand what I am talking about.”

Continuing with the wedding dress theme, “Signs of Nonexistence #055” combines a solitary female figure in stark chiaroscuro against a sumptuous blue background. Less pattern than it is pure color, Rossmiller says of it, “This one is my personal favorite. I would say this sums up the essence of my work on the series.”

Kurt Shaw is the Tribune-Review art critic. Reach him at tribliving@tribweb.com.

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