Richard Mock: The Cutting Edge
Painter, sculptor and an irrepressible political cartoonist, Richard Mock (1944-2006) is primarily remembered for his linocuts, and a prodigious selection of these are presently on view at the Kentler International Drawing Space in Red Hook. They are installed salon style, floor to ceiling and from corner to corner: each a narrative vignette, and as such they resemble the wonderfully didactic stained-glass windows of a cathedral. The exhibition is a feast for print enthusiasts with a sociopolitical angle. In spite of the gravity of themes; environmental degradation, racial inequality and political corruption, Mock chose to address his subjects with a whimsical and humorous quality. There is spiritual kinship with the prints of German Expressionists and Mexican muralists, but it is this inherent sense of humor that distinguishes Mock’s prints from everybody else. Mock saw himself as a political artist: he addressed the ills of corporate greed, seeing it as the major culprit in creation of social inequity and unjust racial policies. He warned about dangers of the widespread worship of “mammon,” seeing his own role as an artist as vital in warning about the dire consequences of such behavior. “It is in the nature of my being to attack the enclosing power structures that are out to suck the planet dry” (quoted by Joyce C. Polistena, Ph.D., in a brochure for the Kentler exhibition, originally in the Allan Antlif, “Anarchists Studies”, vol. 14, 2006).
Mock studied printmaking with the concentration on lithography and block printing at the University of Michigan and moved to New York in the 70's. He worked as a political cartoonist for The New York Times Op-Ed page between 1980-1996, while contributing to other publications such as “Anarchy, First Estate” and “Alternative Press Review”. His association with these publications placed him within the realm of the socially progressive, left oriented artists with anarchist leanings. Mock’s work for the “Cartoonist and Writers Syndicate” further established his reputation and brought him worldwide attention. According to Florence Neal, director of the Kentler International Drawing Space and organizer of the present exhibition, Richard Mock had “almost shamanistic powers of observation, creating timeless stories about human failing.”
His prophetic powers are in full evidence in a piece “Refugee”, 1994, where a starlet-like figure is entangled in coils of barbed wire as she seems to be moving in a seemingly endless dance on the road to nowhere: sadly, this piece could have just as easily been created in 2021. Mock’s work is deceptively playful and again and again he uses the format of fairy tales to get his point across. Terrifying, but often sympathetic, monsters are amalgamations of society’s ills. While they wreak of destruction, we see that they are our own creations, the progeny of our collective societal sins. The print “Alaskan Wildlife”,2001, is a perfect commentary on the never-ending legacy of destruction created by the greed and avarice of the late stage-capitalism. Crude oil is dripping everywhere suffocating and poisoning nature and all its creatures for the present and the future alike—a mighty elk made of leaking oil drums stands triumphant in a herd of similar creatures. The situation is not much better in the cities: “Gentrification Slug”, 2003, is rolling through town, an ever-growing monstrous creature smashing and devouring everything in its way. But on its back, besides hairy warts, grow money-bag pustules, and thus this slug will be sanctioned by the powers-that-be. Mock’s work has the urgency and relevance today it had when created years ago—it gives us plenty to think about. It is also satisfying to see an artist, who’s images often supported an accompanying text, being given top billing.
-Charlotta Kotik, Brooklyn, July 2021
Images courtesy of Kentler International Drawing Space Mock’s exhibition is on view until July 25, 2021