Long ago: Mali Morris at Angel Row Gallery Nottingham
It was May 2002 and I was walking in Nottingham, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the name ‘Mali Morris’. She had been one of my external tutors when I studied Fine Art at Nottingham Trent, many years earlier so I stopped in my tracks. An exhibition of her paintings was being advertised at The Angel Row Gallery (now replaced by Nottingham Contemporary). Around this time there had been a number of painting shows at this gallery that I liked (I thought then, and still do now, that painting is so much out of fashion, especially abstract painting, that it is difficult to see any, if you’re not in the capital at any rate).
What a show it was! Here are pictures of two of the painting that were on view
I was expecting large paintings. For me, at that time, ‘abstract’ and ‘large’ tended to go together; it took me a while to realise that these two terms could be disconnected. These paintings gave me some good reasons why. Pale Yellow Curly Clearing, 2001 was the largest one in the show (there was one other with the same dimensions) and still a modest size at 61 x 77cm. They didn’t need to be any bigger, in fact part of their power (my perception of them was that they were powerful images, though on prolonged viewing they became something much too subtle for that word) was their smallness. They had an immediate appeal and they seemed to draw me in for closer inspection. It really felt like the paintings were exerting this power over me.
Every Autumn, near where I live I see kids jumping up or throwing sticks into horse chestnut trees. We think of the agency as being with the kids: they jump or throw. But year on year it’s different kids, same tress. Maybe in the system of tree-kids, it’s the tree that acts, putting out conkers each year always draws the kids up into the trees.
anyway I was drawn in, and when I got up close I found that simple though the images were they rewarded prolonged attention. The colours were doing something, but not in the sense of direct excitation, somehow it seemed indirect. They slowly unfolded, yet each one in a different way.
I chose the two above for contrast. Of course there are distinct similarities, you could say that the image is the same: monochromatic, with a circular shape against a ground, framed inside an almost square rectangle. And this would be loosely true for all the paintings that were in the exhibition. But look at the differences! Yellow and blue are very different in hue and tone. They do very different things. Yellow seems to expand, whereas blue seems to contract. The painting behave differently. In Pale Yellow Curly Clearing, and I think the title refers to the act of clearing away the paint to allow what’s underneath to show through, note how that particular way of placing, painting, clearing away, leads to a picture that behaves in that specific manner. Whereas, Ripple, 2001 ripples, and it was made by rippling, with a ripple or some such a comb-like instrument. And it’s just enough, any more and we would be looking at another painting, with another way of operating, and in each case this particular painting would have been lost.
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