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Perfectly Frank

The paintings of Frank Moore are bright and cheery, yet they depict a world ravaged by toxins and disease. The artist’s light-filled Manhattan loft also confounds our expectations, but in much gentler ways.

Frank Moore, the painter, is obsessed with environmental pollutants. Where you or I see air or water, he sees a cascade of chemical compounds or a flotilla of sinister detritus, the poisonous results of man’s impositions on nature. Some of his canvases from the mid-nineties, for example, show the spume that shoots off Niagara Falls. From a distance, it appears to be all churned white froth, but up close, it’s a delicate tracery, the meticulously drawn molecular structures of the toxic substances running in those magnificent waters. In another series of pictures, bees fly from cultivated to wild plants trailing ribbons of pollen that are actually twining helixes of manipulated DNA – man’s officious intermeddling loosed on a world in which it may wreak a havoc he is too ignorant even to imagine. What is disturbing about Moore’s work is that these malign elements are often painted cheerfully, as though to remind us that what is wrong with the world may not be what is self-evidently ugly in it. Such work mocks our notion of purity.

Moore’s sparely furnished Manhattan loft mocks our notion of purity, too. “I wanted to make it as unexceptional as possible,” he says, and enjoys the fact that he’s saying this in the context of an article about how extraordinary his floor-through quarters are. Like a psychoanalyst’s silence, doctrinaire minimalism pretends to be neutral but is, in fact, brutal and hard. The artist’s live-and-work space is, rather, rational minimalism: It has what is necessary and what it has is nice, but it doesn’t have anything much extra. It isn’t making a show of its discipline, so a bit of whim and color is allowed. The ideas here are comfort without clutter, a certain coziness without gratuitous upholstery, and a general deference to space and light. Added to this, in the loft as in the paintings, is an element of humor, the kind that puts you at ease. In the paintings, it’s lit cigarettes growing on a milkweed plant, or a bird looking at you from a corner of the canvas. In the loft, it’s a table Moore made himself from twigs and a tree trunk, or a shade of green on the bathroom walls that make you feel as though you’re trapped in a Clinique bottle.

The loft used to be the headquarters of Screw magazine, a history that clearly gives Moore continuing satisfaction. He has a particular smile when imagining what went on in this space previously. Part of what went on was an absurd wood-paneled office for the magazine’s owner, the moldings from which are now a cheeseboard in Moore’s kitchen. Otherwise, the vestiges of Screw are gone, swept away by Moore himself; by Michael Bischoff, the project architect, who had never before done a residence; and by Jim Bibo, a friend of Moore’s who came in for constant consultation.

At the center of the loft is the kitchen, which is modernist but, with its farmhouse sink and upstate chairs, somehow warmer than the rest of the operation. Across the back is Moore’s studio; across the front, the living-dining room — two long corridors connect them on each side. Off these corridors, there are bathrooms, as well as a storage room in which Moore keeps his work, the work of others, and a remarkable collection of carved period frames, many of which once belonged to Pierre Matisse, the art-dealer son of painter Henry Matisse. The southwest corner has Moore’s bedroom; the northeast corner, one for guests.

The beauty of this plan is that it provides four enfilades — clear views across the width of the loft from the elevator and from Moore’s room, and down the length of the loft from the living-dining room and the guest room — which are the best things about the place. “My last loft didn’t have all these rooms,” says Moore, “but it also wasn’t this open. it didn’t have these long vistas.”

Beauty is in the details. Moore is a colorist, so he mixed a tiny amount of blue paint into the polyurethane that went onto the floors. “I wanted to get risk of that orange hue,” he says, “to get a pure, clear, cold shine out of my wood. The contractor though I was crazy, so I tested the pain with the polyurethane on the floor at night, and look how it came up! You’ve got to be an alpha male in these contractor situtuations,” he adds mockingly. The walls are touched with indigo. None of the colors is very flattering to people, but that doesn’t much matter — there’s so much sun. And the spirit of the place is somehow kind, as though what has been left out to create this particular sort of minimalism is, really, small-mindedness.