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Mokha Laget's Abstractions Come to Life at the AU Museum

Bold works influenced by Washington Color School Painter and the architecture of the Katzen Arts Center

Intallation at AU Museum; credit:Bruce Guthrie.
Mokha Laget in front of the 2017 Southern Wing mural commission in Houston, Texas.

Mokha Laget’s exhibition Perceptualism brings hard-edge color field imagery to the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center this summer. A New Mexico-based painter, Laget creates geometric abstractions that utilize shaped canvas to take color field imagery into another dimension. 

Mokha Laget working in Gene Davis Studio, Washington, DC
Mokha Laget working in Gene Davis Studio, Washington, DC, 1982.

Born in North Africa, a region of radiant light and dramatic geographical contrasts, Mokha went on to obtain her BFA in Fine Arts at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC. There she studied under several prominent members of the Washington Color School, an influential non-objective painting group. During her years in DC, she worked as a professional artist and as studio assistant to Washington Color School painter Gene Davis.

By using singular canvas shapes and illusionistic color configurations, Laget’s work lends a softness and depth unique to paintings on canvas, inviting viewers to explore their own perceptions while experiencing the work.

We spoke to Laget about her time in DC and experience preparing for this exhibition.

How did your time in Washington, DC, influence you as an artist?

When I lived in DC in the eighties and nineties the skyline was still relatively low, and the city was flooded with a unique quality of brilliant light found in southern Europe. I often walked around with a black-and-white camera to capture the acute perspectives and interplay of light and shadow on the city’s neoclassical buildings. DC was also significant because of the people I met. I made lifelong friends at the Corcoran and in the city. The four years I spent with Gene Davis taught me a lot about the discipline it takes to succeed as an artist. Gene’s gift was to validate my strong and innate sense of color.

Capriccio #31. Acrylic gouache on linen.
Capriccio #31, 2019. Acrylic gouache on linen, 10 x 20 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Some of the work in the exhibition was influenced by the unique architecture of the Katzen Arts Center. Can you tell me more about this?

When I visited in 2019, Jack Rasmussen, AU Museum director and curator, took me around the space, and the atrium radiated with shadow patterns from the skylights. I took a lot of pictures with the idea of doing a project in that space, related to the interplay of light and architecture. During lockdown, I was fortunate to be invited to do a solo residency at the Friends of the Sky Foundation in Santa Fe, dedicated to the legacy of artist Tal Streeter (1934-2014). I had access to his entire library and read a great deal about his lifelong fascination with flight and kites. That inspired me to create my own kites for the Katzen where my images would act as a call and response in the atrium. They were built to fly.

Moment #2, 2022. Flashe and pastel on shaped canvas.
Moment #2, 2022. Flashe and pastel on shaped canvas, 48 x 51 in. Courtesy of the artist.

How do you interpret the exhibition’s title, Perceptualism, as it relates to your work?

In my conceptual framework, the title refers to a viewer’s sensory experience when engaging in the dialogue between the eye and the mind. It also refers to the space of constant instability we encounter in the process of interpreting what is real and what is perceived by our senses. I am interested in the state of flux created by a painting, not the static object.

Intallation at AU Museum; credit: Bruce Guthrie.
Installation photo by Bruce Guthrie.

What is your advice to aspiring artists?

Trust yourself. Learn as much as you can about your experiences and build your quiver with many arrows. Pay attention and keep your eye well honed to see the unexpected. Stay curious and seek difference. Know how to let your mind roam free.

Perceptualism is curated by Kristen Hileman and on view through August 7. Please visit the AU Museum website for information about your visit. Biography courtesy of Mokha Laget.