Beyond Standard Issue Abstraction: Simon Morris (Essay/Exhibition Catalogue, 1997, morris_catalogue).
David Cross is a Melbourne based writer who teaches in the Department of Fine Art at RMIT University. Cross posits that the work of Simon Morris while using the language of abstraction is in fact as far from the usual standard issue that we are sometimes used to seeing.
Cross discusses the art of Simon Morris and the context within which his practice has evolved. Being a painter of abstraction is no easy thing, and common rhetoric has it that abstract painting is over, as Cross puts it “…we are not supposed to take it seriously [in the 1990’s].” (Cross, 1998, p. 1).
However that is just what Morris does, take it seriously, and as Cross goes on to discuss in detail, Morris uses a not uncritical gaze to search out threads that seek to extend the language of geometric abstraction and that offers a new perspective of how we might see abstract painting.
Cross back’s up this claim by reviewing sequencely the main ideas and themes that make up Morris’ work and compares and contrasts them with the art historical ideas of what formalist painting should be (the rules!). It is clear that Morris’s work utilise’s many of the devices of formal painting such as the grid, the hard edge and the seamless surface, but he meshes them with a variety of everyday sources such as spatial theory, graphic design, and architecture. Further Morris interrogates these hybrids testing their limits to produce glitches and new patterns with unknown parameters. I believe it is this opening up of the work to the everyday sources of form and pattern that make the work engaging, in that what you see is at once both formal and new, rough and smooth.
For me and while I forge my own path, Simon Morris has opened up some of the questions I have regarding my own work, in particular the way he uses spatial theory to tempt the viewer into a fuller and longer engagement with the work and secondly how he uses the work to command the space of the exhibition area.
How can colour and its application as paint on canvas create an experience of space and light for the viewer? And further how might my preference to work with multiples of two and three, and then five and seven canvases change the way they are ‘arranged’ in a particular space? These are some of the questions that have arisen in my practice to date and which this text is helping me to interrogate not an answer but how I might develop strategies that enhance and further these ideas and by extension my practice.
The image below was taken at the installation of my work that was presented for the mid-course submission assessment in January 2017. While the work was noted as being successful to a certain extent, in hindsight there is a need to interrogate how I can enhance the compositions in order to utilise the space and what happens there. Morris’s wall drawings in particular seem to be a useful source of investigation.
Cross talks of Simon Morris’s wall drawings as breaking the containment of the frame and in doing so drift in and out of view for the viewer, making the work function more as an installation. As Simon Morris’ work floats around corners and passageways the viewer is encouraged to follow the work but will never see the work in its entirety, the work responds rhythmically and dynamically to the exhibition space.
Lastly, mindful that I am only at the beginning of my career, it is heartening to feel a kinship or sense of community with another artist who has tackled some of the same challenges that I have had/have. Historically painters of abstraction have been seen as hermetically sealed away in thier studios and to some extent that is a positive factor but we all like to be part of a ‘gang’ sometimes (!).
Cross, David. (1998). Beyond Standard Issue Abstraction: Simon Morris. Essay/Exhibition catalogue, Waikato Polytechnic/ Anna Bibby Gallery, Auckland.
Morris, Simon. (1998). Anyway. Acrylic on canvas.
Morrison, Leanne. (2017) Mid Course Submission MFA Part 3. Installation view, St Georges Bay Road Studios, Whitecliffe College of Art and Design, Auckland.
Josef Albers, Interaction of colour, 50th Anniversary Edition. Chapter ElevenTransparence and space-illusion, Colour boundaries and Plastic action.
Originally published in 1963 the Interaction of Colour was conceived by Josef Albers as a handbook and teaching aid for artists, instructors, and students, putting experimentation to the fore, it sought to engage rather than merely inform. A way of thinking outside of the square.
At the time of publication the ideas being posited by Albers were considered both visionary and revolutionary, and would lead to significant and meaningful change in how one thought about colour. I think it was the experimental, open ended engagement with the process that makes this book a classic, the ‘lessons’ are unending and self generating, there are no wrong answers just more questions and endless possibilities.
Nicholas Fox Weber notes in the foreword a quote at the time of the original publication, that Albers was particularly pleased with, as saying “In an age in which increased human sensitivity has become such an obvious need in all areas of human involvement, colour sensitivity and awareness can constitute a major weapon against forces of insensitivity and brutalization.” (Albers, 2013, p. xi). If this quote was made in circa 1960’s then between then and now I believe that nothing much has changed except perhaps for this idea to become more relevant.
This revised 50th anniversary edition has been expanded from the original ten colour studies (1963) to close to sixty, demonstrating principles such as colour relativity, intensity, and temperature; vibrating and vanishing boundaries; and the illusion of transparency and reversed grounds. I can see all of the above as a fertile ground for my interrogation of the use of colour however for the purposes of this review I have narrowed my focus down to a particular chapter, number XI Transparence and Space Illusion, Colour boundaries and plastic action (Albers, 2013, p. 29-32).
Albers notes that “…when 1 colour is read as appearing above or below another in the transparence studies, a third deception is recognised – space illusion.” (Albers, 2013, p. 29).
Here to the left in my work ‘Untitled’ this deception is at least partly happening, and it is this process combined with the composition of the forms and the surface of the canvas being exposed that I am interest in interrogating.
How do these three things work together (?) to extend my interest in space, inside the pictorial frame, and between works and in the gallery space? It also calls into question how this illusion of space affects the different points of public viewing i.e. close, middle and distance and/or vice versa.
Lastly on Albers I wanted to finish with a quote from the Poet Mark Strand,as cited in Interaction of Colour, “when colour challenges the safe, enclosing geometrical properties of the pictorial surface, as it is meant to, it does so with a slowness and delicacy that are disarming and a beauty that is exhilarating.” (Albers, 2013, p. x)
Albers, Josef. (2013). Interaction of colour, 50th Anniversary Edition. Chapter ElevenTransparence and space-illusion, Colour boundaries and Plastic action. (4th. ed., pp 29 – 32) Yale University Press, New Haven & London.
Morrison, Leanne. (2016) Untitled. Acrylic and enamel on canvas.