New directions: Julia Morison - Art Collector

Issue 59, January - March 2012

This profile appeared in the New directions feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2012.

Well known in Auckland, having shown there since the early 1970s, Julia Morison in recent years has been exhibiting at Two Rooms, displaying her Myriorama friezes with their set of large interchangeable parts with parallel lines. However Meet Me On The Other Side, presented in November 2011, was surprising in that it showed a new direction in her practice, a confident turning towards spectacular sculpture.

Morison, who trained as a painter in the early 1970s and earlier as a designer, appeared in the Biennale of Sydney for the second time in 2010. She has also had major institutional surveys in Christchurch and Dunedin and is an Arts Foundation Laureate.

Oddly, her recent shift in direction came as the result of the Christchurch earthquake. That calamitous event in February violently shattered her concrete studio floor, flooding her working space with water and liquefaction (silt) and – in the upper reaches – dust. Finding a group of shattered liqueur bottles with their contents absorbed into the silt inspired a set of Liqueurfaction paintings where different varieties of the alcoholic drink and grey silt were mixed together to make a series of velvety, subtly coloured grey panels.

Even more interesting, the quake turned up a pile of cages and grilles that she’d been storing in her studio. She took them to a plastic recycling factory where the brother of a friend was developing a machine that blended recycled plastic shopping bags. She put some of the grilles under the runny extrusion as it poured out, wrapping the viscous material around the wires as it was hardening. She found that the texture and surface sheen varied according to temperature. For other works she blended cement with silt and resin.

Although she has occasionally made freestanding or large suspended sculpture before – notably Material Evidence: 100-Headless Women, her 1997 collaborative project with Melbourne-trained Parisian couturier Martin Grant, featuring 10 huge bizarrely designed dresses made from symbolic materials – this new sculpture was more spontaneous in its execution and not determined by a conceptual matrix as in some of her mid 1980s projects.

Two things sparked this off. Firstly, the trauma of the earthquake and its continual aftershocks destroyed her confidence in her usual work practices and patterns. They seemed puerile now, lacking relevance. (Other Christchurch artists experienced the same crisis.) Secondly the dirt in her studio had also made it impossible to paint according to her usual, very controlled specifications. A less pristine, more raw, more improvised type of sculpture became an attractive alternative.

Surrealist in mood with its use of nets, birdcages, a pitchfork and ironing board jarringly juxtaposed with textured grey sludge and alien, eel-like forms, Meet Me On The Other Side carried on with dreamlike fantasies explored in earlier shows such as Decan from 1989 and Space Invaders from 2004. Linked to Morison’s very early training in Wellington as a graphic designer, with their linearity, tonal control and chromatic nuances, these sculptures are like spatial variations of whimsical ink drawings on paper – but with added textural materiality.

John Hurrell

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