As indicated by the title of the exhibition, the theme of these paintings is history and, more specifically, war and conflict. Fighter planes and battleships, knights, cannons, American and Mexican soldiers, Greek warships and Tudor galleons, crenelated forts and Texan garrisons dominate the imagery, with the exception of a single canvas depicting an American pastoral idyll: Native American Buffalo Clan. History, however, can be both universal and personal. While Morley’s paintings invite the viewer to reflect upon the conflicts that have shaped humanity since time immemorial, they also echo the artist’s personal experiences as a child during the Second World War, his cultural affinity with both England and America, and his lifelong fascination with models, from the plastic Air-fix kits of his youth to the paper cut-out varieties.
Morley has been collecting models for over thirty years and these, together with Les Chants de Maldoror by the Comte de Lautréamont, are the primary sources of inspiration for his recent paintings. A passage in the 19th-century poetic novel, which was a favourite work of the Surrealists, describes ‘the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella’. Fuelled by the idea of the relationship between these two incongruous objects, the artist began to rifle through his collection models and to explore the painterly possibilities of free association, with the canvas Maldoror I being a key example of this new-found approach. Furthermore, Morley simultaneously jettisoned his traditional practice of transferring images to the canvas using a grid. Yet for all of their inventiveness, the works are very much rooted in the observation of reality – in this case the models in the studio – and the relationship between hand and eye. As Morley explains: ‘they’re three-dimensional objects that I look at, and the emphasis is very much on the idea of looking at. I paint them from the way in which I’m looking at them, which is really from the point of view of sensations. I feel the sensation of it, and pre-imagine it made of paint… but it’s not just a question of looking, but of doing — in relation to this, in relation to that, in relation to the space between things. In a way, it’s very classical.’
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