Preview: The Radiant Future and Mr. Gay in the U.S.A.

Donald Moffett doesn’t call his artworks in “The Radiant Future” sculptures. They’re not paintings either. The Staten Island-based artist prefers the word “contraptions.”

“He has really taken apart the idea of what a painting is and can be,” said Michael Goodson, exhibition director of CCAD’s Canzani Center Gallery, where Moffett’s exhibition will be on view through the end of the year.

Balancing his paintings on jaunty-yet-jarring constructions — oops, contraptions — Moffett challenges how paintings are typically displayed.

“I still do hang on to the category of painting as my prime interest. I think that will be clear in the show,” Moffett said. “With the way the paintings have been developing over the last few years, with the drilling and the opening up of the structure, the wall became a real downer.”

Thus, he brought them into a three-dimensional space by hanging them on constructions made of things like wood and donkeys, a little man and a Snow White look-alike.

“We did go a little berserk with the hanging devices. We clearly got into them,” Moffett said. “However, through all of that, as elaborate as these hanging contraptions might be, they are supporting a painting just as a wall traditionally does. … But clearly they’re not neutral. They are symbolic. They come off as symbolic. They’re not random. They’re not un-thought.”

Those symbols in the hanging devices (as well as the holes in the works) are up to the viewer to decide what they mean to the paintings, which shamelessly embrace “the fat of oil paint,” Goodson said. They look more like shaggy carpet than oil paint.

“I’ve learned a lot from working with oil paint,” said Moffett, who originally intended to paint the work with acrylic but it didn’t hold the refinement of the shape quite like oil did. “You learn why oil paint lasts 500 years. It’s durable. It’s malleable. It’s sculptural even. That’s a lot of paint. That oil paint is still wet in a lot of cases.”

Goodson likened the thickness of Moffett’s paint to when the impressionists turned to impasto, in which the paint was so thick brush strokes were visible.

“It’s a celebration of paint and the history of paint in a different, smart way,” said Goodson (who, we might add, managed to get this exhibit up on time despite Moffett’s art storage space being smacked around by Hurricane Sandy).

The idea for the near-illusionary shape of the paintings was inspired by Moffett’s participation in a cake decorating class. The piping of pastries with icing made him consider how paint would hold up through a similar application.

“The Radiant Future” exhibit is paired with a compilation of works Moffett made near the start of his career. He drew the 17 sketches in “Mr. Gay in the U.S.A.” when he attended the sentencing of Ronald Gay. Gay opened fire in 2000 at a Virginia gay bar because he blamed the LGBT community for his last name being a source of amusement for his peers.

The drawings are sparse — some made of only two or three lines — but as moving as Mr. Gay’s story is tragic.

“[The drawings are] very honest in a way and that kind of also includes bad drawings,” Moffett admitted. “Some are a little embarrassing. But I stick by them and don’t go back into them because they were too honest.”

The shooting “was crushing in a lot of ways,” he said.

This is the first showing of “Mr. Gay in the U.S.A.” in which Moffett also offers a viewing of ephemera he collected while working on the project.

Opening simultaneously this Friday at the Canzani Center Gallery is a suite of paintings by Byron Kim made every Sunday since 2001 called “The Sunday Paintings” and “Simulacrum,” a collection of works by numerous artists that have ditched digital and returned to studio practice of making art from the ground up.