I have been an admirer of the artist Simon Morris for a few years now so it seemed to be natural to review an essay by David Cross that accompanied a catalogue for an exhibition and project carried out in 1997. As a painter of geometric abstraction I can identify with the tone of the essay, where in the late nineties there was a certain hostile discourse attached to formalist painting. However through his distillation of Simon Morris’s practice, Cross I think managed to put forward a strong argument for a new discourse, and now here in 2017 it seems that we might have come full circle, the question (one of them) I think now becomes: How does painting reflect its time? To stand in front of a painting/wall drawing by Simon Morris, one cannot help but see the work as being in the world and of the world, it changes our perception of space and time in a way that takes into account the changing conditions of everyday, a proposition that I think and hope is becoming more apparent in my own work.
Which brings me to questions of my own work in relation to Simon Morris’s, in particular how can colour and its application as paint on canvas create an experience of space perception? I believe this sense of space perception is uppermost in Morris’s wall drawings (and to a lesser extent his paintings), whereby breaking the containment of the picture frame his drawings take charge of the wall space with fluidity and energetic malleability that sees them bend around corners and down corridors. And although they may at first appear as a random grouping of lines, the more time you spend with the drawings you realize that there is some kind of logic or code happening, a kind of mapping of the space. The spectator must follow the map and accumulate visual and physical sensations in order to experience the work.
For me what I find interesting and of interest to my own practice is how a shared interest in using the formal language of geometric abstraction, ideas of space perception and the experience of the spectator might play out in my own work. The differences are clear, I work more conventionally on canvas however the paint/forms go right to the edge, and could be seen as challenging or pushing at the containment of the frame while Morris has broken free of the picture frame. But for now I’m finding the process of working on canvas satisfying, there is something about using and exposing the raw canvas that is important to the work. In thinking more about this I would only reconsider if the scale demanded I go larger, for now at least I’m happy with the size and scale of my work, and particularly from my mid course submission I found that working on different sized canvas was successful in opening a lively discussion between the works. Perhaps because of the difference in stretcher sizes.
Simon Morris’s wall drawings can cover a large amount of wall space and cannot therefore be seen altogether at one time, and although I work to a much smaller and seemingly restricted surface the way the forms within my painting overlay each other, creates an illusion of depth within the work. The diagonal forms indicate movement in a different direction, which can be slightly unnerving. This depth oscillates as you move around the painting as the materiality of the paint pushes and pulls at what is really ground and figure.
Colour is also a key element in creating this sense of space perception, and at different viewing points the conditions of light and/or the lack of, can also change the way one might view the work. In Morris’s wall drawings he also employs a strategy of using transparent paint that is seen only in certain conditions, the work can ebb and flow depending on where they are placed and how they are painted. This seems to me to be a tactic I would like to test my own work with, what would happen if I made a conscious decision to actively plan the arrangement of the work to the space, to create moments of ‘chance’ encounters? It seems to me that the pros might outweigh the cons, calculated moves can work in some cases and there is still the chance of a rainy day!
So there are differences and commonalities that happen between our works, but mainly and importantly we are both looking for new ways of moving forward. New ways of conceiving the formal language of geometric abstraction with the everyday experience of what it means to be human.
I have talked a bit about Simon Morris’s wall drawings but I haven’t really mentioned his more conventional painting practice and the site-specific installations. It is this multiplicity of modes of working that interests me in my own practice. For me everything is connected, to photograph and draw to paint, there are no rules except that through the making of things concepts are discovered. In the essay by David Cross on Simon Morris he quotes Barthes as argues for not a concept into a chosen medium but “Concepts must be forged from the objects of ones enquiry or imported according to that objects exigency.” (Cross, pg. 5).