Heath, 1997. Acrylic on canvas. 122cm x 183cm
Paul Morrison’s paintings bring to mind such different artists as Bridget Riley, Patrick Caulfield, and even Caspar David Friedrich and the Romantic landscape topos. But his bold graphic cartoon-like black and white works also owe their look as much to advertising and pop design. They are a promiscuous mix of styles, high and low.
For the Romantics, landscape offered the viewer a pantheistic fusion with the “real”. Nature stood for all that was untrammelled by civilisation -the unmediated “other”, the untamed ld. Emerson, for example, felt able to write: “The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and vegetable.” While Thoreau could claim without any self-consciousness or irony: “Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature itself.”
Times have changed. Technology has shifted the balance, and led to a realignment of consciousness away from Nature and toward Culture. In relation to art, as Leo Steinberg wrote as early as 1968: “The pictures of the last fifteen to twenty years insist on a radically new orientation, in which the painted surface is no longer the analogue of a visual experience of nature but of operational processes.” So what Morrison has to offer has little to do with Nature. Rather his work is about the way in which cultural codes invade the space of innocent reverie. They are thus about impossibility and frustration. These are landscapes from the end of history; graphic images where nothing “real” could live or flourish. They are resonant with a sense of loss which implicitly acknowledges that we live in an age where any dream of holistic unity must be perceived as coming not from outside culture but from within it.
The three-barred gate of Heath frustrates our entrance into the apparently Arcadian space on the other side. We cannot enter, but even if we could, nothing would change. The trees make no pretence at reality. The “placeless place” of the chora is here envisaged as knitted together from the debased codes of an atrophied culture. As if through a rearranging and subtle unravelling ofthe vacant simulacrum of postmodernity there is the possibility of fulfilling our deepest human impulses for some kind of connectedness.
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 1999
Image © Paul Morrison 1999