Delighting the senses

Father Bill Moore invites viewers to encounter the spiritual world through their sense of touch

“Descent of the Fire” and “Veneration” by Father Bill Moore.

“Descent of the Fire” and “Veneration” by Father Bill Moore.

‘I’ve always related to the world through my touch,” Father Bill Moore says. “When I was a little kid, my parents would say to me, ‘Bill, do you have to touch everything?’ And I [would say], ‘Yeah, I do.’ “

Today, this artist and Catholic priest still relates to the world through touch. While his abstract works are beautiful for their simplicity and their rich, autumnal colors, they take on new dimension—quite literally—as soon as you put your fingers to them.

The folks down at the newly opened Gallery 516, where a collection of Moore’s works are now on display, invite patrons to experience Moore’s works physically as well as visually. By running your hands over the surfaces of Moore’s works—sometimes satin-smooth, sometimes ridged and rippled—you understand something of the artist’s love for tactile revelation.

Moore, who lives in Southern California and belongs to the Sacred Heart order, says that he accesses “hidden truths” of the spiritual world by exploring the physical world. In his artist’s statement, Moore says that Catholic tradition has always taken believers “deep into the world of ritual and bodily senses,” a tradition that has inspired him to explore the physicality/spirituality element in his art.

“It’s all intuitive,” he says of his work with acrylic paint. “I love to build up a surface, cut into it, tear it down and rebuild it, until there’s a natural harmony that takes place.”

Moore says that his creation of color, like his creation of texture, is highly intuitive and experimental. His colors, he says, often simply “arrive” on the canvas; they simply reveal themselves to him. The resulting shades are warm, soothing and rich—his oranges and yellows conjure up feelings of harvest; his reds are rich and mysterious, like the color of wood dissolving into a fire. He does not, however, seek shades that give an impression of newness, but rather ones that have a sort of indefinable familiarity.

“Color is so important to me,” Moore says. “I’m into timeless colors, [colors with] no boundaries, no east and no west.”

The works themselves, in fact, have a timeless quality. Despite their contemporary genre, many look as though they were painted centuries ago; it appears as though they have become cracked and yellowed over time. Some, like “Descent of the Fire,” even look as though they have been partly destroyed by flame.

The works’ look of timelessness lends them an almost mystic charm. They possess the awe-inspiring quality of a religious artifact.

Moore says that he “reveres the traditional” and is drawn to simple, basic shapes and particularly rectangles. “Veneration” (12 inches square) is composed of two horizontal yellow rectangles divided by a red line. The yellow of both rectangles is soft and ethereal, although the top rectangle is slightly darker in color. The bottom one seems to be fading into the painting’s black background. When viewing the painting from several feet away, one has the impression of looking down a long hallway into a gradually fading light.

There are many ways to appreciate Moore’s art. One can certainly get lost in its beauty and simplicity from a distance or contemplate its rich colors up close. But again, any appreciation of Moore’s art is incomplete without direct physical contact—without the revelation of touch.