Observation and Problem-Solving

BY Kathryn Manis

Trey Moore’s unique perspective on design informs both his teaching and his artistic work.

Though we are still sometimes reticent about speaking of technology and art in the same breath contemporary artists of a wide variety are exploring the connections between technological innovation and artistic practice. And while many are dealing with this relationship literally incorporating technical mediums or depicting technological questions in their work others consider their equally rich conceptual overlap. For North Carolina native Trey Moore who teaches technology and engineering design and maintains his own visual art practice the principles of design and problem solving are important connective threads between the two mediums and philosophies.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental design from North Carolina State University’s prestigious College of Design Moore likes to joke that he managed to go through a design school and end up with a fine arts degree. The program then in its infancy allowed flexibility in its coursework and Moore remembers splitting his time between drawing and painting studios and architecture studios.

As an instructor in North Carolina public schools Moore shares the principles that shape his own practice with his students even if that isn’t quite what they might expect. He explains “Between what I do at school and what I do as an artist is that thread of design. The training I received as a designer was all about observation which includes learning to draw by looking at your subject instead of your paper and restructuring how you look at the world around you. Design and engineering is the same way. It’s not just about solving problems but being able to identify them. Design is really about observation so I try to teach my students how to become effective problem solvers and creative thinkers.”

This intellectual commitment is visible in Moore’s work in the attention to detail intimate and intriguing vignettes and precise composition of his drawings and paintings. Watercolor and drawing pieces like “Henrietta” and “New Hanover County Courthouse” provide unique and engaging perspectives on well-known and well-loved fixtures of the local coastal community.

“Henrietta” shows the iconic riverboat straight-on docked on the riverfront walk and framed by a small section of the downtown skyline. The simple composition is set slightly right of center and is anchored by a pole or Riverwalk feature which cuts into the viewer’s line of sight. Both lines and details are chosen sparingly and the paint application is delicate and bright. A simple color palette of red blue and green is used to draw visual associations between the boat and its surroundings and complements the wispy lines and cross-hatching of the drawing underneath. In person the famous vessel is clunky and rectangular; a large block of white standing out as it chugs along the horizon. In Moore’s intimate depiction the boat is integrally connected to its environment blending seamlessly with historic buildings and impressive trees. Perhaps observing the important relationship that the ship has to the town historically and contemporaneously Moore conveys this symbiosis in his drawing and watercolor interpretation.

“New Hanover County Courthouse” is more elaborate but similarly showcases Moore’s unique attention to the life and personality of his subject matter. Playing with perspective and line quality this piece represents the historic building from a street-side view and flanked by stoplights pedestrian crosswalks and light poles. These contemporary features contrast sharply with the redbrick Gothic-revival style of the building which was originally erected in 1892. This is emphasized by the fine uniform lines that make up the structure and the messier heavier lines which comprise the more modern architectural features in the street scene. Here technology and architecture intertwine in subject matter as well as in design and Moore applies paint subtly and deftly.

Many of Moore’s representational pieces are directly inspired by his surroundings and they feature local plant life and scenes from area beaches along with important landmarks and cityscapes. Sometimes working from photographs but often captured in a notebook that Moore likes to keep with him he attentively renders discarded shells small bunches of zinnias and brightly colored chairs set up along the beach. Moore admits that the pen is his preferred medium and it’s not surprising that his Drawings and Watercolor series is the largest and most diverse. Of the Wrightsville and Wilmington areas Moore says “It’s what I’ve been drawing and painting pretty much the entire time I’ve been drawing and painting. I was born and raised in Wilmington and it’s where I pull things from. A lot of growing up here is going to all of the beaches in this area; this area is a good bit of why I paint what I paint.”

In his oil paintings like “Beach Day” and “Sound Side” Moore represents scenes that locals and visitors alike will find appealing often placing people into these cherished settings. Moore says that he particularly enjoys the tactile and tacky qualities of oil paints and it is clear in these pieces that he relishes the medium. “Beach Day” showcases a familiar and fond scene with beachgoers sun tanning on brightly colored towels reading in reclined chairs and sheltering from the sun under patterned umbrellas and tents. The image is simple and bright showcasing a row of relaxers on a background of a distant pier and a foreground of vivid white sand. There is a slight atmospheric perspective employed as objects and skyline get grayer and hazier to demonstrate depth and distance.

Moore’s artistic tutelage began in his early grade school years when he took drawing classes under Hester Donnelly at the Cameron Art Museum then known as St. John’s Museum. And though his ability to focus on art making has fluctuated in years since the artist is excited to prioritize it now with the support of his wife Rebecca Jones. He says of Jones and this new phase in his career that “I may have lagged a little bit with drawing and painting but it’s something I’ve never given up. My wife is extremely supportive of me doing this full time — thanks to her I’ve been pursuing it as a second job.”

Moore’s art oscillates between abstraction and realism each style complementing the other. Pieces like “Gibson” and “Galaxy” are exemplary of the work that Moore creates in between larger compositions or to cleanse his artistic palate. As Moore puts it “The abstract work has recently taken off and is often a part of my warm-up kind of like the calisthenics I do to keep myself sharp and limber with the drawings. My abstract paintings are an extension of that and that’s relatively new for me. I typically have at least two things going; it may just be two things up on the easel could be figurative or abstract and I may have a watercolor going on at the same time. With oils depending on how I’m going about it it will need to sit and dry for a few days so I need to have something else to keep working on.”

An admirer of a wide variety of artists from Edward Hooper to the abstract expressionists Moore spent a lot of his childhood poring over one of his father’s art history books and taking in the amazing range of work hanging in North Carolina art museums. His interest in German expressionism and the practice of artists like Franz Klein and Mark Rothko is evident in his abstract works in his heavier-handed paint application broader brushstrokes and more neutral and monochromatic color schemes. Depicting small groups of objects and abstracted interior spaces these pieces provide an interesting comparison to his drawings watercolors and representational work in oils.

“Gibson” depicts two vessels with large handles possibly pitchers or mugs. The majority of the piece’s backdrop is white but small sections of lightly brushed-on brown paint suggest a tabletop or other wooden surface. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the foremost piece by the shades of pale pink comprising its open top and the thicker black lines and more robust shading that flank it. The piece in the background nearly fades into its surroundings more faintly suggested by a grey outline and small pale shadow.

Additional paintings like “Riverwalk” toe the line between Moore’s primary modes depicting scenes fairly realistically with slightly abstracted perspective and flattened surfaces along with thicker and more impressionistic paint application.

The effect of Moore’s attentive observation and diverse skills in the principles and applications of design is a body of work that is dynamic creative and nostalgic for folks familiar with the area. Often taking as his subjects the environment locales and people of his hometown Moore doesn’t just document the appearance of his subjects but rather reveals their communal or emotional significance.