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Review by Robin Mason

  • Qu’est que c’est



    Listening to Alex Gene Morrison’s Recent Paintings




    What is it these paintings, by Alex Gene Morrison under the umbrella title “Same As It Ever Was”, are saying to me?  Initially they have the echoes of Babel’s Tower. Black fragments, quotations from past ‘isms scatter themselves around the gallery walls. Languages of figuration: geometric abstraction, modernism, constructivism, symbolism, all shuffling for dominance and potential confusion during the building of the tower that is this body of work.


    I’m called into the darkest depths of a small painting with the title “ Forest (with inverted symbols)”. It seems to be telling me ‘there is nothing more than melancholy here’, maybe a nod towards Romanticism (or not). In this darkness nothing more than a slipping line of sap, amber seems to point away from the darkness, but even this feels like a moment of entrapment. In the black searching darkness of these paintings there is a looming sadness that almost gives up hope.


    This black seems to be there to keep us out, do not enter, enter at your own risk. As I view the other works in the show the black ‘blocked’ Malevich references and a huge primal, silhouetted hand, as well as the startling fluorescent flashes of colour, all seem to be hiding something beyond the canvas surface, something not for our eyes.


    Then the wonderfully crafted paintings start to reveal moments of care and obsessive attention to detail, the fluid rhythm of thick black paint ‘edges’ against an impasto green glazed area. The bright colour, as rips or gaps or cracks or spaces become voids, blinding us to the space they open up beyond the darkness.


    Holding your hand up, mimicking the huge hand in one of the paintings, you can protect your vision from the brightness. When I do this, the black gradually becomes ‘fur’ before my eyes as thinly dashed gentle brush strokes mimic the real world. It’s not fur, it’s paint, but it has the gentle fluidity of small hairs growing and flowing over a body. The fur of a bear, the fur of a cat, a fur that in the next painting becomes so thick that its textured surface is not illusion but is physically retaining the structure of fur left by the hair of the brush. Then the paint lodges against another area of thinly worked brush strokes right up to the edges, as the painting attempts to hold onto its physical existence in the real world.


    These paintings don’t let me in, but they do hold me in dialogue. They tell me that they are exploring the possibility of things that are long gone, to reappear in a new form, no longer flat, but suggestive, a figurative minimalism, a minimal figuration is being discussed openly. But maybe the painter is not quite yet ready to reveal the findings or to show us what the paintings are hiding.


    Morrison’s work tells the story of an artist who is in search for the answer to the possibilities of painting. To make audible the silent voice of ‘thought’ navigating and communicating with a material that is not held back from reflexive dialogue by programmes or equipment, but has the instant ability to converse with the maker, to guide the maker during its making, to be in dialogue with both the artist and the audience about its coming into existence.


    These paintings initially hide their generosity. It takes time for them to reveal themselves. I leave wanting more, I want to see the other side of the hand, I want to see what place causes the fluorescent flashes, I want to see if the black is a cast shadow or the surface of a place or a being, what causes them?


    I hear what they are saying, they are whispering it – “This is what I’m doing”, “this is what it looks like to be doing this”… It’s not the same as it ever was any more. Morrison’s sampling of the past transforms each fragment into something new for today. Now I think I want to hear them speak more loudly and maybe more directly, a cliffhanger. I want to see the next episode.




    Robin Mason 2014


    (Robin Mason is a painter and course leader of BA Painting & MA Fine Art at City and Guilds of London Art School)