Simon Morris: Folding Water - Art Collector

Issue 50, October - December 2009

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The titles of Simon Morris’s works often indicate how long it took him to paint them. Preoccupied with the act and materiality of painting, Morris paints lines that jink and turn back on themselves like the folding of water writes John Hurrell.

Simon Morris is highly regarded for a practice that encompasses stretcher works, liquid acrylic on paper, garden or sports ground installations, and large, site-responsive wall paintings. He works as a senior lecturer in painting at the Massey University College of Creative Arts in Wellington.

Since graduating with a Bachelor in Fine Arts from the University of Canterbury in 1985 he has been building on the legacy of New Zealand geometrical abstraction created by Gordon Walters and Milan Mrkusich, incorporating gridded processes that in recent years highlight within their titles the time taken for the paint application – particularly when he utilises a distinctive ribbon-like, continually meandering line.

This undulating line in space is Morris’s current preoccupation. It regularly changes direction only to curve away at another right angle and then tuck back under itself, creating a complex stacking pattern as it progresses.

For his tightly planned wall paintings, after considering all the architectural features that might affect the viewer’s comprehension of the space, he designs on his computer a regular grid featuring that continuously turning, thick line. He then draws this patterned configuration on the wall with a stencil in light pencil and paints it in with thin acrylic. The time taken to physically render it on the wall is what gets incorporated into the title.

In these big wall paintings, or large canvases, Morris usually starts the line at the top left-hand corner and has it shimmy its way up and down to the right-hand edge, to cease there. Sometimes however that line reaches the far side only to return to the left on a new patterned trajectory, overlapping its earlier stages or brushing against them to create an unanticipated network of regularly tracking loops. Eventually it comes to an end next to its beginning.

Morris is known in Australia for several shows he has presented at SNO Contemporary Art Projects in Sydney. In September he was included in an exhibition of eight artists creating site specific wall paintings at Victoria University’s Adam Art Gallery in Wellington. In October he will be presenting new work in Folded Water, a solo exhibition at Two Rooms in Auckland.

For the Adam Art Gallery wall painting Morris is using a narrow room on the upstairs Chartwell level, one that is unusual in that it has a long fenced off slot cut into its floor next to its right hand wall, overlooking the gallery below – a method the architect has used to link two stacked floors and accentuate a high stud. Morris has decided to work with the one long wall only: “The gap upsets the logic of viewing around the four walls. So I’ve decided to use only the wall opposite, wanting the one surface to draw the viewer in a rhythmic movement. I will paint the line from the start of the gallery along the plane, turning towards the end and returning in a different form as a variation on the tone. The line will jink up, creating the idea of an echo or shadow. The pattern will be reversed back on itself like a mirror reflection.”

When it comes to Folded Water at Two Rooms, Morris will be presenting another wall painting along with a variety of portable painting types.

Some are small works on stretched linen, using thin acrylic, of single linear configurations that elsewhere become looping interconnected patterns when repeated in larger canvas paintings or wall works.

Others are heavier, on thick textured hessian, with several linear units rendered in solid black lines that sometimes re-track or overlap over earlier trajectories, but which are not time-connected. They emphasise the material qualities of thin fluid paint being absorbed into a particularly textured support.

A third variety, a series related to time, has a layer of thin paint applied daily to the linen, each occasion reducing the covered area by a line’s width smaller than the previous day, and the evaporation of the uncovered area causing the paint to thicken. Thus Morris builds up the tones and balances the colour saturation, filling the vertical stripe structure until the space runs out.

These preoccupations with the act and materiality of painting, blended with the use of linear direction as a chronological trope, are what make Morris’ works unusual and his shows eagerly anticipated.

Simon Morris’s next solo exhibition Folded Water will be shown at Two Rooms in Auckland from 15 October to 14 November 2009.

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