Cole Mohr“Apologies” at Secret Sixteen Gallery, Montauk


Sitting down with Cole Mohr is like emptying a packet of blue razberry Pop Rocks candy into your mouth and chasing it with champagne. His playfulness belies his incandescent intelligence but when he discusses his work things get more serious. Originally from Texas, where they make things big and bold, he has drifted away from an established position in the fashion industry and held his first solo show at Marianne Vitale’s Long Island City studio last year called “Free Food.” He recently joined the younger roster at Shchukin Gallery’s new outpost in New York, figuring alongside older masters in Moscow and Paris.

We sat down with Cole at Lucien in the East Village a few days before his show at Secret Sixteen Gallery in Montauk. He talked about the influences in his work, including overcoming the fear of death during a hurricane 250 miles out to sea and helping a dying hammerhead shark give birth, fitting for a show on the east end of Long Island.


Mariah Ernst: What are you drinking? It’s very green.

Cole Mohr: It’s Hi-C Ecto Cooler.

Ernst: Oh god.

Mohr: I’m just kidding, that’s the stuff comes in a juice-box, with the green guy from Ghostbusters on it. No, this is chartreuse.

Ernst: Tell me about your show for Secret Sixteen.

Mohr: The show is on Thursday. It’s a small place so I’m going to have five paintings in there and it’ll probably feel pretty full. I like that about it though.

Ernst: Tell me more about the work.

Mohr: They’re oil paintings. One is a big linen and I used a tattoo needle to cover the entire surface of the canvas. I’d dip it in oil paint and it takes fucking forever. It’s two or three of that kind of those. Another piece is a found object. It’s one of those liquor store facades, like from a window display from summer when they’re selling Bacardi, or something stupid.

Ernst: Yeah, like Malibu Rum. 

Mohr: There is nothing stupid about Malibu Rum, ok? Malibu rum taste like suntan lotion and I like that. But this piece is of a repeating beach, just a horizon with some little trees. But it’s long, it’s like a fence. The last piece is one large painting, all black. The big black thing looks like the scary ocean at night. Also because Montauk is freaky-deaky in the ocean at night. Scary. I went swimming in the night and I was like, man, it is dark out here! And there are underwater caves and trenches!

Ernst: Give us an idea of your previous work.

Mohr: Last year was the first time I had my own show. I’ve worked with Mark Flood previously, he’s from Houston. For three years I have worked for a sculptor, Marianne Vitale who has a huge studio in Long Island City. Last year she was like, “Do a show here! You have three or four months.” So during the beginning of last year, I made like 20 painting in three or four months. Almost all of those were the dot method. So that was a super tweaker time.

Ernst: How did you get it done?

Mohr: I worked 12-7 every day. My friend was working for me, with me, for most of that time. The paintings were very labor intensive. I thought of the idea of them and he helped me with the manual task. That show was fun and it went really well. I managed to make some money from it and I was able to make more paintings because of that. That was “Free Food,” in May of 2014. I just had a show last month at 26th street, called “All You Can Eat.” It was in a store-front, kind of D.I.Y. thing. I several wooden sculptures. I made a sculpture called a Shaming Chamber, a chair locked to a little wooden lean to. A little punishment place.

Ernst:  I know you’re working with Shchukin Gallery.

Mohr: They’re new here in New York. They have a place in Moscow and Paris. In Moscow they have classic works, old modern masters, and in Paris they have more of that too. They don’t have many living artists in Paris. In New York they just opened up a year ago and they’re creating a more contemporary roster of younger artists. In November I’ll probably be doing a solo show with them. They’re cool. They’re nice. I’m excited about the Secret Sixteen show. It’s also a great excuse to go have a fun shin dig and go to the beach. Any excuse.

Ernst: Any excuse to go to the beach?

Mohr: Fuck yeah! I love swimming. I feel very connected to the ocean. When I was seven my mom and stepdad and I went on a year-long sailing trip to Mexico. It was amazing. It was the coolest thing ever. I would always piss my parents off and get in trouble. When they were looking, I would just jump off the side of the boat into the ocean. They would get pissed, now we have to catch you, like a fish! Never a hundred miles off shore. But sometimes I’d do it twenty miles offshore.

Ernst: Would you ever consider going back to Mexico?

Mohr: Yes, but the boat was a fucking mission. We almost died at sea 250 miles offshore in a hurricane in the middle of the night. There were moments during that where I was like, we could all die here. That was a moment of clarity for me though. I was seven years old and we were in the middle of the ocean and it started to get very rough. It turned into 35-40 foot waves and we were in a 34-foot boat. I went outside into the cockpit. Because at a certain point I thought, if something happens, we’re all going down. So I thought everything is going to be just fine because it’s completely out of my control. I sat in the cockpit on the floor with my back against one bench and my feet against the other. I was in the basin of the cockpit. And I was riding it like a ride and just letting it wash over me, the screaming wind and ocean. I felt totally clear. This is all good. It’s ok. If I die here, its not going to be my fucking fault. What am I am asshole because I died in a fucking hurricane at night? When I’m seven? No. That’s fine, I’ll take it. I was ready to die. I didn’t want to die. But I felt very ready to die. It defibrillated a life experience into me. That’s one of three big ones in Mexico.

Ernst: What were the other two experiences?

Mohr: I also delivered a shark out of its mother’s belly into the ocean. This fisherman brought a huge hammerhead shark up onto the shore, extremely pregnant. He was motioning for me to come over. I though, he can’t be talking to me! I think I was eight by then, it was closer to the end of the trip. So I had already seen all this wild boy shit so I was like, yeah yeah, shark, I get it. I’m cool around sharks. And then they were like, come here. And I was like, I’m going to shit my pants. The shark was dead but they had just cut it open with a machete. It had tons of babies, so they wanted to save the babies. There was nobility in their brutality. They were taking the little baby hammerhead sharks out and tossing them into the ocean. I grabbed out and put it in the ocean and it swam off. That was my shark.

Ernst: What was the third experience?

Mohr: Mazatlan, I was eight. We were on our way back up to California because we were almost done with our trip. There were these big pillar stones in the ocean right on the edge of a 20-foot cliff. We were on boardwalk next to the cliff. You look down and there are these waves crashing. Each of the stones was a different height. The tallest one has a gazebo at the top, carved out of the top of the stone, and there were sketchy carved rock bridges connecting them. My mom was like, I don’t want you to go on it, and I was like, well I’m already on it. It was a weird beautiful anomaly. I remember standing up on top of it and looking out and just seeing everything in a 360 degree view and just saying, oof! I felt like I was seeing a new color or something. It was just one of those moments of clarity. And that was just one of hundreds of things in Mexican that were just inexplicably beautiful and very profound for my development.

Ernst: Is there any connection between these experiences and your work?

Mohr: Definitely. The darker dot paintings, one of which is in the show, are definitely all from two things. One was that sailing trip to Mexico. The other, randomly, is from TV static. When I was a little kid I would get right up close to the TV, dangerously close, during the test pattern. I was three, and I was mesmerized to see what was happening inside or if it was a random thing. I remember always having that visual ingrained in my head, among other random childhood visuals, like the marble composition notebooks.

And of course, the pieces in the show are influenced by the ocean at night, you see different textures, you get moonlight off rough choppy waves. That’s reflected in the darker dot paintings and then, there is the ocean in the other work.

Do you smoke?