Alison Jacques

Paul Morrison

12 Oct - 12 Nov 2011

© Paul Morrison
Anacardium, 2011
24 carat gold and acrylic on linen
127 x 182.9 cm
50 x 72 ins
12 October - 12 November 2011

In Paul Morrison's first solo exhibition in London since 2008, for which he has executed a major architectural intervention on the façade of the gallery and installed a monumental white sculpture within the main space, the artist extends his enquiry into the nature of representation, and the representation of nature. Morrison's iconic take on landscape, portraiture and botanical illustration employs appropriation, digital modification and collage to create transhistorical mashups. The show features new large-scale paintings gilded in gold leaf and a series of white reliefs, creating an immersive and disquieting experience for viewers within Morrison's artificially natural world.

The site-specific relief on the gallery's exterior wall exemplifies the disorientating manipulations of perspective, scale, period and style that are vital strategies in Morrison's practice. While George Braque's iconic birds fly overhead, contemporary cartoon flowers intermingle with trees drawn from the earliest printed scientific books, creating a vertiginous image in which history is mapped as dynamically as space. The disruption of the modernist linearity of the gallery's exterior through the organic contours of the image is also a signature gesture of Morrison's, one which recurs through the artist's recent architectural practice - from his wallpainting with relief elements at Jean Nouvel's recently completed building on One New Change, London, to the exterior elevation at St John Street, London, a work that superimposes a signature Morrison bloom directly onto copper panelling to reflect the sunlight and perforate the building's geometry.

In the main gallery space, a four-metre high white aluminium dandelion sculpture towers above the viewer. Dandelions, recurring motifs of Morrison's, have been used symbolically by different cultures to suggest all the celestial bodies: the sun (as a flower in bloom), the moon (as a full white seed head) and the stars (the dispersing seed). Such overwhelmingly Romantic associations are disturbed by the clinical and pristine whiteness of the sculpture's surface, and the physical encounter with a floral genus enlarged to twenty times its size suggests more menace than lyricism. The whole experience of the gallery space is indeed transformed into a curious pastiche of being in nature: sensory expectations and visual associations are continually disrupted, as Morrison's play on pictorial scale is again reflected in his distortion of perspective and complex layering of imagery. Encounters with flora and fauna in the large white gold and 24 carat gold surfaces of the paintings unsettle as the juxtaposition of motifs suggest narrative anachronisms, stylistic inversions and traces of hidden layers and meaning. The anchor motif in Morrison's portrait of a Renaissance Princess is itself uneasily tethered pictorially and narratively, floating amongst many possible readings.

In the second space, white wooden bas-relief motifs break the picture plane, evoking carved printing blocks and extending the tradition of relief as practiced by Jean Arp and Ben Nicholson. Ideas about the cultural production of landscape and grafting images of 'natural environments' into urban settings are abiding concerns of the artist, who ultimately seeks to recontextualise the viewer's perception of nature. The effect of Morrison's use of scale and surface in his evocations is suggestive of deep pastoral narratives within world literature and the human psyche, those which fantasise about magically intimate human interactions with nature made possible by giant flowers or insect-sized people, a notion compounded by the vast and intricate piece on the façade. By walking into the gallery, visitors literally enter Morrison's painted world, one in which the certainties of perception, representation and nature are left behind.

Paul Morrison (b. Liverpool, 1966) studied at Goldsmiths College of Art (1998). Museum solo shows include Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2003); Bloomberg Space, London (2007); Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI (2008); Las Vegas Art Museum, Las Vegas (2008); and Fondazione Volume, Rome (2010). Recent museum group exhibitions include Repicturing the Past/Picturing the Present, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2007); Murals, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona (2010); and Nothing is Forever, South London Gallery, London, for which he created a 24 carat gold site-specific wall painting that remains on view. Paul Morrison is represented in many important public collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; The Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; The Victoria & Albert Museum, London; MCA Denver, CO; and The Städel Museum, Germany. He lives and works in Sheffield.

Tags: Jean Arp, Joan Miró, Paul Morrison, Ben Nicholson