abstract art, a systems view

Angel and People and Bedtime

with 2 comments

At the National Museum of Wales, Museum of Art, Melissa Munro kindly met me, to take me into the store room to see a wonderful painting: Angel and People by Mali Morris.

Angel and People 1979, Acrylic on Canvas, 180 x 171 cm, Purchased 2009 by Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, with the assistance of the Derek Williams Trust, Image by courtesy of the artist

Even though I have only seen it before in reproduction its large scale was about as I had imagined it to be. And it was knock-out!

It was painted flat on the floor. That’s how Mali Morris taught me to paint and I can see her now, along with the group in what was the Waverley building at Trent (Now Nottingham Trent University), each of us sitting or kneeling and moving paint around on our respective canvases. Ours were stretched if my memory serves me correctly, whereas in Angel and People Morris was working on unprimed canvas stretched across a solid board, and only later put onto a stretcher.  This allowed her to get right into the painting and at the same time to control the flow of the liquid acrylic.

I also learned from her to spend as much time looking at a painting as physically working on it, and again it is easy to imagine her doing just that when making Angel and People, working flat on the floor and then lifting it upright to study it. So, there is both quick physical action and slow meditative looking somehow preserved in the picture. Would it be too fanciful to suggest that there is a dialectic of doing and thinking that is transformed into the experience of viewing?

In viewing this art work we can identify three main forms accompanied by seven smaller forms, veil like, in Morris’s words they “act in various ways as links,bridges, veils or appendages”.

In my recent blog post about David Manley, I noted that his approach was to “abstract from”, starting out with a place, proceeding to a manipulated digital image of the place, and then to the painting, where the connection to the starting point is transcended. In Angel and People, Mali Morris’s approach is almost the opposite of that. Here there is no “abstracting from”. The picture develops over time into what it is and then a title is found that in some way resonates with the experience of it. In this case a friend visiting Morris’s studio had said that the left hand form had “wings like an angel”.

At the museum, Melissa  had appeared like an angel to transport me to the store where the painting could be revealed.

After viewing it, I looked round the rest of the collection.  This place is really worth visiting. I particularly liked the painting by Howard Hodgkin entitled Bedtime. Like Angel and People it has three main forms, but in the Hodgkin painting they seem constrained by the frame, almost as if they were imprisoned by it. If it weren’t my bedtime now I might say more about the similarities and differences… perhaps another time.


Written by Andy Parkinson

August 21, 2011 at 9:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. This is a marvellous painting. Great colours and an interesting composition. I’ve never come across Mali Morris. Your post has made me want to find out more about her and try to see some of her work. I’ll have to find out where they’re displayed.


    August 23, 2011 at 10:08 am

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